Editor’s Note: The best and brightest

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Editor’s Note: The best and brightest

By Seth Mendelson - 06/19/2018
Walmart is offering its associates a chance at a low-cost college degree.

Yup, that’s right. The nation’s largest retail chain — only several years removed from being vilified in the press for mistreating its in-store workers with low pay, long hours and little chance for advancement — is now offering these same employees an opportunity to get a college degree at three universities, including the University of Florida.

Walmart is teaming up with Guild Education, a Denver-based company, to offer online programs that can lead to a bachelor’s degree in business or supply-chain management, and that will cost employees about $1 day. Full-time and part-time workers, about 1.6 million people, and those with the company for at least 90 days, are eligible, and the company plans to expand the program in coming years.

Why the change? As we discuss in our cover story this month, retailers are hard-pressed to find employees to work the stores during this period of strong economic growth. Workers have the advantage these days, and retailers have to offer as many incentives as they can to get an edge over the competition to attract the best and the brightest to their stores.

Paying them more is just the tip of the iceberg. While everyone wants more money to work, many retailers are finding that they must offer incentives and fringe benefits to attract the right type of worker to their stores. That is what 3.9% unemployment levels — which basically means that everyone who wants to work is working — does to a business reliant on finding and keeping good employees.

And, as competing with online retailers becomes more intense, merchants hopefully understand that having qualified employees in-store who are willing, able and ready to assist consumers is their first line of defense.

Subsidizing college tuition is just one tactic retailers must use. Besides the oft-mentioned pay increases, merchants like Walmart, Target and the major drug store chains are becoming much more willing to offer such perks as maternity leave for both sexes, extra sick and vacation days, and even providing assistance with childcare. Yes, this is going to hit the bottom line, but, frankly, it is not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do.

Interestingly, such retail operations as Wegmans, Publix and H-E-B, to name a few, have long appeared on ‘best places to work’ lists compiled by various groups and national magazines. Is there a coincidence that many of these same retailers are regularly among the best and most profitable retail operations in the country? I don’t think so.