Walmart is struggling to find talent in a tight jobs market. So the retailer is reaching out to high school students with a new pitch: Come work at Walmart and we’ll cover your SAT prep and college tuition.
Walmart announced Tuesday that it will expand its $1 a day college benefit to its current high school students and future high schoolers who work at the company.
It will also offer up to seven hours of free college credit to high school students and provide free SAT and ACT prep through a partner network. Then Walmart will subsidize the cost of students’ tuition, books and fees at six non-profit colleges, including the University of Florida.
Students who go through the program while they work at Walmart will be eligible for different types of bachelor’s and associate degrees, such as computer technology, business management and supply chain management.
Unemployment in the United States has fallen to its lowest level in decades, posing a challenge for Walmart and other top retailers. As the retail job openings rate stays above the national average, Walmart has raised its minimum wage, expanded benefits and started to pay bonuses to workers who limit their absences.
Still, Walmart is looking for new ways it can attract new talent.
The retailer is the largest private employer in America. It has more than 1.5 million workers in this country, but less than 25,000 of them are in high school today. That’s below the retail industry average, entry-level according to Walmart.
In the past, retail jobs had been attractive to high school students. But Walmart says it has become increasingly difficult to recruit high schoolers because of scheduling difficulties.
Walmart isn’t the only company having trouble finding high school students. The youth employment rate has been declining for years as fewer teens enter into the workforce. Several factors are driving this trend, such as an increased focus on youth activities that are more likely to get them into a good college, like summer internships or volunteer programs.
But Walmart believes its offer of free SAT prep, credit for college courses and $1 a day tuition will draw teenagers. It will also try to attract high school students with flexible scheduling and the option of working steady shifts.
Reaching high school students is important to Walmart so the company can identify and train its next crop of talent. Walmart hopes that students who use the education benefit will stick with Walmart after they complete their degrees and move up the ranks at the company either at stores, within the company’s supply chain or in corporate roles.
Walmart has a history of building up high school students. More than 300 of Walmart’s approximately 4,700 US store managers started off as hourly workers in high school. Walmart’s current CEO, Doug McMillon, started working at Walmart in high school, too.
“We see this as a pipeline that we can leverage that we currently aren’t,” said Julie Murphy, Walmart’s executive vice president of people. “We want to be able to create that connection early.”