Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, is powering its newest employee career growth program with VR technology headsets and education tools to train its associates and next generation of managers.
Announced late last month, the retail giant’s Walmart Academy aims to deliver job-specific retail training and future skills training, plus leadership and wellness courses, to its more than 2.3 million employees globally in the coming months.
With a focus on future skills, leadership and wellness, it is the next iteration of the company’s existing Walmart Academy, a collection of 200 physical classrooms in stores and distribution centers around the United States. The academy launched in 2016 and forms the foundation of its L&D strategy for its U.S. employee base. This expanded program will be offered to the retailer’s associates around the world.
“Over the past six years, associates in the U.S. have completed more than 2.4 million trainings … [and] last year, Walmart Academy trained over 400,000 U.S. associates,” according to a company press statement.
The expanded global program will be powered via Pico Neo 3 VR headsets and VR training solution provider Strivr, according to Lorraine Stomski, senior vice president for learning and leadership at Walmart.
Employees can access the training in two ways, neither of which requires them to travel to a Walmart Academy location. They can use the VR headsets and iPads dedicated to training in each store or they can download the Walmart Academy app for “on-demand training that is quick, bite-size, and similar to a YouTube or TikTok video,” Stomski says.
The company provides mobile devices to allow employees to access the Walmart Academy app while training in the store on company time. For one global Walmart Academy, the company is “continuing to distribute devices this year,” Stomski says.
Walmart also offers classes via video conferencing as a part of its employee education program. “We have a state-of-the-art Walmart Learning Experience similar to what Harvard uses for virtual classrooms, which takes virtual/distance learning to another level beyond Zoom,” she adds.
The VR headsets and training tools put store employees into real-life scenarios to prepare them for challenging situations with a focus on specific unexpected scenarios, such as an in-home delivery person accidentally dropping an item or surprising a customer during delivery, for example.
HR’s virtual reality is truly here
This is virtual and augmented reality’s moment in HR in general and employee upskilling in particular, according to global analyst Josh Bersin, who will be a keynote speaker at the 2022 HR Tech Conference, in Las Vegas on Sept. 13-16. Register here.
“Now that VR headsets are around $300 to buy, companies can purchase the equipment for every store and let every employee enjoy the experience. And as someone who has experienced VR firsthand, I can tell you this type of training is interesting, engaging and fun,” he writes in his blog. “And to make it even better, the STRIVR platform collects skills and capability data so companies can really see who is ready and who is not.”
At the recent Irresistible 2022 conference hosted by Bersin, the use of VR and the metaverse was a hot topic for CHROs.
“I’ve talked to companies that are doing virtual recruiting events, where young people go to these virtual communities to meet different people inside of the company, which is obviously much more efficient than going to a university and sending a bunch of people,” he said. “And it’ll certainly be used for training.”
According to Stomski, using VR has been a success for Walmart since it began using Oculus VR headsets for training in 2018.
“Our associates have told us this helps them feel more confident and prepared to perform their job,” she says, adding, “and interact with customers, members and fellow associates.”
For more insights into the future of VR and AR in upskilling, save the date for the 2022 HR Technology Conference, which will feature at least five sessions on the topic, including the mega-session titled “How Technology, Personalization Are Transforming Learning and Development at Bank of America.” Learn more here.