There’s a lot of rhetoric, especially from the left, that is very dismissive of working at Walmart. Go the Wikipedia entry for “Criticism of Walmart” and you’ll find references to the following criticisms of being a Walmart employee: low wages, poor working conditions, being forced to work off the clock, being denied overtime pay, not being allowed to take breaks, violations of child labor laws, instances of minors working too late, during school hours, or for too many hours in a day, labor racketeering crimes, sexual discrimination, limiting or eliminating health care benefits, poorly-run and understaffed stores, etc. You get the idea – it must be a pretty terrible place to work, right? But then why do so many people actually want to work for the retail giant, based on the huge number of applications that Walmart receives every time it opens a new store?
For example, Walmart received 23,000 applications for 600 new jobs at the two new stores that it opened this week in Washington, DC. That’s more than 38 applications for every position. In contrast, Harvard only gets about 17 applications for every available opening in its freshman class, Stanford gets about 15 students applying per opening, Yale receives roughly 14 applications per opening, and Princeton gets 12.7 applications for every slot in its freshman class.
When Walmart is considering employee applications for its news stores, why can it be twice as selective as Harvard and three times more selective than Princeton when those elite universities consider student applications for freshman admission? In other words, why do so many people want to work at Walmart?
Here’s one reason, from Walmart’s “Economic Opportunity Fact” sheet:
Because entry-level jobs often lead to bigger jobs. At Walmart, you can climb the ladder from a stocker or a cashier to a department manager, a store manager, and beyond. About 75% of our store management teams started as hourly associates, and they earn between $50,000 and $170,000 a year – similar to what firefighters, accountants, and even doctors make. Every year, we promote about 160,000 people globally to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay.
We want every associate to find the career opportunities they want with Walmart. We’re ensuring that part-time associates have visibility into full-time job openings in their stores and at nearby stores – and that they always have the first shot at those jobs.
Walmart offers competitive pay and benefits, including health care plans, education assistance, retirement plans, and training and development opportunities. We offer hourly store associates quarterly cash bonus opportunities, a health care plan that starts at $17 per pay period, a 401k plan with a company match, a discount on merchandise, and, most of all, a chance to move up through the ranks.
So, many employees must look at a Walmart job not as a dead-end, low-paying job, but as an opportunity to start at an entry-level position, with the possibility of significant career advancement if they have the talent, drive and ambition to become a salaried manager, or even executive.
Case in point: Company veteran Doug McMillon, 47, was recently elected to take over as Walmart’s president and CEO on February 1, 2014, and will likely see his annual salary double from its current level of $2.7 million to somewhere in the neighborhood of the $6.3 million being paid to the current CEO Mike Duke. According to McMillion’s bio, he began his career with Walmart working as a summer associate in a Walmart Distribution Center when he was 18 years old, and he later re-joined the company at age 24 after he finished graduate school and earned an MBA degree. So McMillon started working for Walmart at an entry level position as a teenager, and rose up the ranks of the corporate ladder to the highest position in the company by his mid-40s. While that example is certainly an exception, it does demonstrate the significant advancement opportunities that exist at the world’s largest retailer.
A few years ago, Charles Platt went from being a senior writer at Wired magazine to working as an entry-level associate at a local Walmart to see what life was really like as an “associate” at the “evil” retail behemoth. He then blogged about it at Boing Boing, here’s a key excerpt:
Several of my co-workers had relocated from other areas, where they had worked at other Wal-Marts. They wanted more of the same. Everyone agreed that Wal-Mart was preferable to the local Target, where the hourly pay was lower and workers were said to be treated with less respect. Most of all, my coworkers wanted to avoid those “mom-and-pop” stores beloved by social commentators where, I was told, employees had to deal with quixotic management policies, while lacking the opportunities for promotion that exist in a large corporation.
Bottom Line: Doug McMillion’s rise from Walmart associate to CEO, and Charles Platt’s experience while working at a Walmart might help us understand why 23,000 people applied for the 600 jobs at the two DC stores – the retailer offers economic opportunity, and hope and change, capitalist-style. Might be a good time to quote Larry Kudlow, who always reminds us that “Free market capitalism is the best path to prosperity.” Many Americans find that there’s no better path to prosperity for them and their families than by becoming a Walmart associate, and that’s why the retailer receives so many applications every time it opens a new store.