Since 2016, Walmart Inc. has opened 200 physical Academies, which train field associates who are new-to-role, currently in-role, or recently promoted. The retailer presently is focused on providing Academy training for its department managers, hourly supervisors, assistant managers, store managers, and market-level associates to prepare them for the future of retail.
Walmart aimed to leverage Academies to train more than 1 million associates in 2019 to ensure they have the necessary skills to create a seamless omni-channel experience that saves customers time and money.
Walmart Academies support and reinforce One Best Way standards to drive correct execution and consistent processes across the business. Academies utilize dedicated classrooms and supercenter sales floors to train associates in advanced retail skills, leadership, and change management initiatives. Academies are deliberately connected to well-run Walmart supercenters. The ability to travel quickly and easily from the classroom to the sales floor allows for immersive hands-on training. However, only the very best supercenters have Academies. These stores execute One Best Way processes consistently and serve as a model of excellence for learners to take back to their stores and share with other associates.
The Academy program combines facilitator-led instruction with hands-on sales floor training to help learners connect with the material. Recently, Walmart took learning a step further by including virtual reality (VR) in Academies. The retailer utilizes VR for scenarios that cannot be easily created or replicated on the sales floor. Empathy VR, for instance, allows cashiers to experience and plan for difficult customer transactions at the register. Walmart’s ability to use a blended modality approach in the Academy ensures greater associate engagement, a more in-depth understanding of the material, and increased retention.
As Walmart Academies have evolved over the last three years, the retailer has created a four-pronged strategy for long-term, holistic success. The program strategy focuses on growth, access, opportunity, and non-retail training. The Academy program is intended to help new and existing associates grow their Walmart careers. New associates receive training that enables them to be successful in their new role. Existing associates are upskilled through advanced skills training to excel in their current role and to prepare for future roles. Because Academies provide access to an impactful, engaging, and experiential best-in-class platform of tools and technology, associates learn through various channels to improve knowledge retention. With Academy training, associates have greater opportunity for career advancement, education, and economic mobility.
But Academies are meant for more than just retail training—they are also a viable part of the community. Walmart strategically leverages Academy training and infrastructure to foster community engagement and development. This four-pronged strategy creates a lifetime of value through innovative learning.
All Academies are One Best Way-certified through an extensive audit process. The audit consists of 1,700 questions designed to ensure all aspects of the training environment—facilitators, classrooms, and sales floors—comply with One Best Way standards. Once certified, Academies continue to receive a quarterly audit to ensure these standards are maintained.
To gauge and reinforce Academy training, facilitators and Academy managers visit the stores they support to follow up with associates who have completed the training. They determine if associates have retained the training they received at the Academy and are successfully applying what they learned. When applicable, facilitators and Academy managers reinforce Academy training on those visits.
Walmart estimates it trained 2 million associates by the end of 2019. Front-End Transformation (FET) training facilitated through the Academy was designed to improve self-checkout usage. Before the training, Walmart struggled to convince customers that a self-checkout experience would be as clean, fast, and friendly as a traditional checkout experience. The retailer needed its associates to make customers feel comfortable in the self-checkout space. Since learning about FET through the Academy program, assistant store managers, customer service managers, and self-checkout hosts have used their interpersonal skills training to effectively engage customers through conversation and body language. After FET training, Walmart experienced a 65 percent increase in self-checkout usage.
The success of the Academy program has been so substantial that it has impacted how other areas of the business train their associates. Supply Chain, Merchandising, Sam’s Club, and the Home Office all recently introduced Academies based on the training models utilized by Walmart’s field Academy program.