Lowe’s philanthropic arm introduces new training program for those aspiring to skilled trades

Since 2018, the company has operated a skilled trades program for its employees.
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· 5 min read

Layoffs in white-collar jobs have dominated headlines, but frontline retail also has a problem.

The quit rate among retail workers reached 4.1% in January, above pre-pandemic highs for the first time in the industry since April 2022, according to a survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This persists despite companies like Walmart, Kroger, and Target heavily investing in their workforces by offering higher compensation.

But better wages often aren’t enough. It may seem counterintuitive, but offering career development and upskilling programs in other fields can reinvigorate workers and increase employee satisfaction and retention.

  • A 2021 Pew Research survey of retail workers found that 63% of those who quit their job did so due to a lack of opportunities for advancement.

In an effort to address these challenges, and the shortage in skilled trade workers, Lowe’s and its philanthropic arm, The Lowe’s Foundation, are offering its own employees and students outside the company career development training.

At the start of the month, the foundation announced a $50 million commitment over the next five years to prepare 50,000 people for skilled trades careers like carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, or appliance repair careers.

  • The skilled trades is also an industry facing a labor crisis: 85% of contractors report trouble finding work, with an estimated 546,000 new skilled tradespeople will be needed to meet demand in 2023 alone, according to Associated Builders and Contractors.
  • The foundation will run two separate annual grant application cycles, with applications for the first cohort running through April 10.

“We see this as opening doors for more people from all backgrounds and experiences to benefit greatly from the opportunities that exist within these highly rewarding, well-paying careers,” Betsy Conway, director of The Lowe’s Foundation, told Retail Brew.

Labor is king: Internally, Lowe’s operates a training program for its own employees that also targets the skilled trades. The pre-apprenticeship program, “Track to the Trades,” was launched in 2018 and Lowe’s covers 100% of the tuition cost of this benefit to give all qualifying associates an opportunity to earn certifications in skilled trades.

  • After completing the course, workers receive a diploma that signals entry-level competence in their specific trade. Lowe’s also offers to pay for industry-standard third-party certifications, which gives them another leg up, Eden Jackson, manager of Lowe’s Skilled Trades Program, said in an email.
  • In surveying its employees, 70% said Lowe’s has provided opportunities to help them learn new skills and develop themselves. Also, 80% of Lowe’s store leadership roles have been filled internally over the past year. The company hopes to grow that figure, Jackson said.
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“[The internal and external programs] complement each other very well,” Conway said. “When we think about addressing the critical worker shortage in the skilled trades, we are working on it internally to provide our associates with that type of opportunity, but then externally to provide the community members with opportunity.”

And Lowe’s is hardly the only company offering its workers alternative career pathways. Last year, Walmart launched its private fleet development program that offered supply-chain workers in Dallas and Dover, Delaware, 12 weeks of training and a commercial driver’s license to become truck drivers for the company. In January, the company expanded the truck-driving opportunity to workers in stores, distribution centers, fulfillments, and transportation offices.

  • In 2021, Levi Strauss debuted a two-month machine learning bootcamp for workers to receive training in coding that was entirely paid for by the company. The bootcamp is a recognition on the part of Levi that the retail world is increasingly digitized.

“We cannot win this war for AI talent if we only look to hire the same people, just rotating them from one company to another. There’s just not enough people in the world with those skills,” Katia Walsh, Levi’s SVP and chief strategy and AI officer, told Vogue Business.

All are welcome: Diversity is also a major throughline with these programs. Women and people of color are often overrepresented in retail jobs, as Jenny Weissbourd, associate director of the Workforce Strategies Initiative at the Aspen Institute, previously told us. Conway said offering opportunities to these groups, which also include those from rural communities, is a priority.

“We really want to help unlock opportunities for a number of underrepresented groups,” she said. “As we’re thinking about increasing the number of individuals participating, we’re also looking at how we can work with our community and technical colleges and nonprofits to engage new communities in this opportunity.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.