Wal-Mart opens first ever training center in Dallas / Fort Worth area

The nation’s largest private employer is testing that concept first in its largest U.S market: Dallas-Fort Worth.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has created a center in Irving to serve 120 local Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets.

DALLAS, TX (Dallas Morning News) - Wal-Mart’s store hiring and training needs are so massive that it believes it can do a better job with a central location.

The nation’s largest private employer is testing that concept first in its largest U.S market: Dallas-Fort Worth.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has created a center in Irving to serve 120 local Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets.

Beginning this week, the world’s largest retailer is moving hiring and training from its stores into the Wal-Mart Talent Center for four key entry-level jobs: cashiers, stockers, backroom clerks and cart pushers.

Wal-Mart expects to open more stores here, and its hiring needs are growing, Smith said. The retailer employs more than 29,000 people just in local stores, not including Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers. So far this year, it has opened four area stores, and two more are in the works for later this year. A Supercenter under construction at Arapaho and Coit Roads will open next year.

New hires will be taught every aspect of a job before being sent to a store, Smith said. “Now training should be more uniform and in-depth. People will understand the business better.”

The retail industry’s average turnover rate for part-time hourly workers peaked at 91 percent in 2008, according to the Hay Group. The rate fell during and after the recession and was 61 percent last year.
Experts who follow trends in part-time entry-level jobs believe the turnover rate is heading up.

“It stabilized for a couple of years, but we think that’s about to change,” said Maryam Morse, senior principal and retail practice leader at the Hay Group.

Some retailers are shifting jobs to part time to avoid the cost of health care, and there could even be an increase in the minimum wage while traffic is down at many shopping centers. “Put that all together and it’s almost a perfect storm for part-time turnover to go up,” Morse said.

Wal-Mart turnover varies by store, Smith said, but he anticipates that using job coaches with real-life experience will make a huge difference. “Nothing can replace the experience of working in a busy Wal-Mart Supercenter, but we’ll be training thousands of associates in a real store environment. We can train several hundred in a week.”

Wal-Mart spent a few million dollars to transform a 38,000-square-foot space at 8105 N. Belt Line Road in Irving into the one-of-kind facility.
Recognizing that hourly workers have unique scheduling needs, the center will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. It’s on a bus stop for people who need public transportation. Interview rooms are private, and Wal-Mart has contracted with a lab to do on-site drug testing to speed up the hiring process.

Every part of a Wal-Mart store that a new employee will encounter has been replicated, from the break room and cleaning closet to the loading dock. Aisle displays and fixtures used in the stores are set up for training. One room is equipped with 27 checkout stands.

There’s even a parking lot with a corral where employees will be trained to collect shopping carts.

The decor includes motivational quotes, photos of Sam Walton and displays about the history of the company.

Kevin Patterson, a backroom coach at the center, said there is a lot to teach, including safety issues, the coding used to find 100,000 items in a supercenter and terminology.

“Now we have to also learn how to do [web]site-to-store orders and know how to find merchandise,” he said. New hires don’t know what some pieces of equipment are or how to use a walking stacker with a lift on it.

Even today’s cart pushers have to know a lot more than he did 20 years ago in Pauls Valley, Okla., Smith said.

Training can help reduce turnover, said Jason Hamilton, vice president of marketing at SnagAJob.com, the largest job site for part-time and full-time hourly positions. “One thing that’s reassuring to me is that I’m hearing more employers talk about the value of their hourly workforce more and not just seeing them as warm bodies.”

Retailers are realizing that these people interact with customers and have everything to do with their brand and the customer’s experience, Hamilton said.

People need to also be treated well in the hiring experience, Hamilton said. “I’m seeing more retailers taking steps to be better at hiring.”
Competitor Costco has a turnover rate that’s significantly below the industry average. While Costco’s wages may be more generous, it probably makes up the difference in lower hiring and training costs and from having a staff that can provide better customer service, Morse said.

With all the criticism that retail gets for its hourly part-time jobs, those entry-level jobs don’t have to be dead ends.

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