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Walmart Graduates See Long-Term Future at Retailer

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HERMITAGE, Pa. – Eighteen months ago, Matthew Baker took on a part-time sales job at the Walmart Supercenter here. Three months later, he was promoted to a department manager.

Then, on Thursday, Baker was among 53 Walmart employees who graduated from the Walmart Training Academy in Hermitage where employees learn new skills that help them advance in their careers with the retail giant.

“My goal is to become a store manager by my 10th anniversary,” Baker said.

He might realize that goal much sooner than he expects. Just before his class walked up to accept their credentials came the announcement that Baker would be promoted to an assistant manager.

“Eventually, I want to be an executive leader in our company. I plan to pursue that in full force,” Baker said.

More than 100 guests, Walmart employees, managers and executives gathered at the Supercenter Thursday to congratulate the first graduates of the retailer’s newest training academy. The Hermitage site is the second such academy in the region, the 90th nationwide, and part of Walmart’s $2.7 billion initiative to create such training centers across the country.

Angela Fleeger, market manager for Walmart in western Pennsylvania, said the overall goal is to create a comprehensive training program, Pathways, to prepare everyone from entry-level positions to regional managers.

“We are investing in our people,” she said. “We’re going to have 200 academies open by the end of the year.” A third academy is expected to open in the western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio region within the next several months, she said.

The two weeks of training consist of a mix of classroom and hands-on sales floor time, Fleeger said. The Hermitage academy would train associates from 28 stores in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

The first week is devoted to retail fundamentals and helping participants gain core retail skills. The second week focuses on the sales floor and acquiring the skills necessary to operate a particular department, noted Katrina Marra, manager of the Hermitage academy.

“It gives them the tools they’re going to need to do their jobs every day, to do it better, to do it with confidence and go out on the floor and teach and train their own associates,” she said.

Through the Walmart academy, workers seek to improve their skills in leadership, customer service, communications, technology and merchandising, Marra said. “The key tools they need are communications and leadership so they can be confident and go out and do that job,” she said.

The Hermitage training center consists of five classrooms and can hold up to 90 students per week, and Marra said that this operation is at capacity. “We’re centrally located to take care of three markets,” she added.

Heather Haberer, regional human resources director, said her region — which encompasses the Cleveland-Akron-Youngstown area and south to Marietta in eastern Ohio as well as the Pittsburgh and Erie corridor in western Pennsylvania – is home to some 30,000 Walmart employees.

“We’re at 98 stores in this region,” she said. The training sessions help those in the Pathway program advance while improving employee retention. Plus it allows for employees to receive a well-rounded, hands-on experience through the learning center.

“From classroom to iPads on the sales floor, I think it mirrors where the growth of the company is growing, and the development that we need to push forward with our associates,” Haberer said of the program.

These academies make sense because employees no longer need to travel long distances for training and can return home after a session ends. Walmart’s goal is to train 140,000 employees nationwide through its academies this year, the company said.

Danielle Templeton, a manager of the grocery department at the Hermitage store and a graduate of the first Hermitage training class, said that even though she’s worked at Walmart 15 years, there is still much to learn.

“One of the things that I learned is that no matter how long you’ve been with the company, you can always still learn from your team,” she said. “It also taught me to believe in myself.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.