Executives from Wal-Mart told the Times that the point of the program was to help employees become more educated, which would therefore improve the quality of its workforce. But the effort could help the company with a problem that has plagued it over the years: high employee turnover. (The company notes in an SEC filing: 'Similar to other retailers, the company has a large number of part-time, hourly or non-exempt employees and experiences significant turnover in employees each year.')
Under the partnership with American Public University, a for-profit school located in Charles Town, West Virginia, eligible employees will receive a 15 percent price reduction on tuition. Wal-Mart will also invest $50 million over three years in other assistance programs.
In order to be eligible, an employee must have worked full time at Wal-Mart for a year or part time for three years, in addition to scoring 'above target' on his or her most recent job evaluation.
Most small businesses won't be able to offer employees education subsidies, but Wal-Mart's new program underscores how companies are trying to get creative in their attempts to retain workers.
Tom Mars, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Wal-Mart U.S. told the Times, 'If we want to make [jobs at Wal-Mart] great jobs, we really have to do something different to distinguish those jobs and our company from everyone else in retail.'
During the worst days of the recent recession, employee retention wasn't at the top of a business owner's concerns since jobs were scarce. But as the economy improves, employees are likely to start weighing their options again—even amid a tight labor market.
'Given that salaries have been frozen or even cut back at many companies, unhappy employees may jump ship at the first opportunity,' wrote Nancy Mobley, president and CEO of Insight Performance, a human resource consulting firm focused on emerging and mid-market companies, in an Inc.com blog post this week.
On Tuesday, Inc. highlighted a story from CNN Money about Ohio-based cleaning company, My Maid Service, which – oddly enough – has found one of best ways to retain employees is to promise to train them for other careers. By offering anyone who stays with the company for at least two years free training in the career of their choice, My Maid reduced its turnover rate from 300 percent in 2007 to zero in 2009.
MATT QUINN contributes to the Wall Street Journal's corporate finance blog. He has also written extensively about banking and corporate finance for publications including Inc., American Banker, and Financial Week. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.