If a Walmart employee working the floor of a store wanted to make more money by getting behind the wheel of a truck in the retailer’s private fleet, the company did not have a route to make that happen.
That employee seeking to join the fleet would need to take an outside CDL course on his or her own and pay for it out of pocket. Another hurdle was an outside driver needed to have 30 months of experience and a solid safety record before he or she could become a driver in the Walmart fleet, with the past experience with the company not counting for anything.
“They not only needed to get their CDL, they needed to get experience and then they could apply back,” Fernando Cortes, the senior vice president of transportation at Walmart (NYSE: WMT) who is overseeing a new program to radically change the old way of doing business, told FreightWaves.
But in what is now the second step in providing an in-house pathway for an existing employee to become a driver and bring in more pay, Walmart is expanding a program to a wide range of U.S. store associates that first began in its supply chain division.
With a first-year driver able to make as much as $110,000, the comparison to what an associate earns is potentially “life changing,” according to Cortes. “We are constantly looking for feedback from our associates. We have a large number of associates in the system and some of them may have a desire to become drivers. So we asked ourselves whether there is a way we can create a path for that to happen. That was the genesis of the idea.”
Step one was to roll out a program to the roughly 100,000 employees defined as being in Walmart’s supply chain. That program was announced to the public in April 2022 and so far has yielded 56 new drivers to the Walmart fleet of 13,000.
The latest extension is to Walmart associates. Walmart filings report that the company has 1.6 million associates in the U.S. The fact sheet distributed by Walmart in connection with the plan said 252 associates are expecting to become drivers this year.
The program for the supply chain employees was the first phase. But given the potential bigger size of the pool, the latest rollout is significantly expanded, Cortes said, noting that there were two training centers for the first phase. There will be seven in the latest program.
There are some geographic restrictions on who can apply, according to a Walmart spokeswoman. An applicant needs to be within 50 miles of a Walmart hiring transportation office to apply. There are 25 such offices, and a map provided by Walmart does show some gaps in where they are located. For example, the northern Plains lacks any concentration of transportation hiring offices, as do the Southeast and parts of New England. But the West Coast, Midwest and the mid-Atlantic states including New York are well covered.
Applicants would then be sent to one of those seven training centers, located in California, Texas, Utah, Illinois, Delaware, Indiana and South Carolina. The Delaware and Texas facilities were the only two in the first phase of the program.
The precise size of what portion of those 1.6 million associates will be eligible is not certain, according to a Walmart spokeswoman. The program is open to associates who are in stores, distribution and fulfillment centers and transportation offices that are within that 50-mile radius.
Cortes said the training program looks to the existing fleet to educate the associates coming up the ranks. “We have very tenured drivers so they are doing the training of the new associates,” he said. “Not only do they do the training but they stay in touch.”
Compensation for drivers at Walmart, Cortes said, is a “hybrid.” Walmart does pay by the mile but also pays for various other activities and pay can scale up as a driver adds up tenure in the job. Walmart drivers also are covered by other company benefits.
Drivers at Walmart can be out overnight, but the company offers “multiple schedules to try to accommodate the business need and the drivers, so we have different models,” Cortes said. Those include one-week schedules for teams and five-day or six-day schedules for over-the-road drivers.
“There are different things to accommodate the needs of drivers,” Cortes said. “That is something we continue to refine and offer options so they can have a good work/life balance.”
Cortes told FreightWaves that Walmart went into the program expecting to secure 250 drivers out of it, “but we have high expectations for this thing as it progresses and believe that in the future it could be a main avenue for us to add to our fleet.”
Walmart will continue to hire fleets and independent owner-operators and will be “relatively balanced” between that purchased transportation and the private fleet.
“We appreciate the relationship we have with all our carriers and we’re not saying there’s going to be a departure from that,” Cortes said. “But the private fleet is a reliable, cost-effective solution.”
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