Opportunity

From Football to Retail: Virtual Reality Debuts in Associate Training

Inspiration can come from surprising places. Take college football, for instance.

You’d probably never guess that one of Walmart’s newest training tools got its start from an associate watching the University of Arkansas football team practice. But that’s exactly what happened.

Brock McKeel, senior director of central operations, saw how the athletes were interacting with the virtual reality (VR) technology during practice, putting them in real-life scenarios to test their skills and reactions. He talked with the team and one of the coaches – all confirmed VR had helped them improve performance on the field. After seeing the university’s success, Brock had an idea: This could easily be applied to our Walmart Academy training for store associates.

Imagine you’re a new Walmart store manager and you’ve never experienced a Black Friday. Wouldn’t it be helpful to understand the dynamics of such a busy day before you ever had to actually manage your associates and customers through it?

Using the same technology as the football team, we incorporated VR into 30 academies and we used it to train our associates to handle situations from the everyday, like managing the fresh area, to the rare, like Black Friday.

VR allows associates to experience a lifelike store environment to experiment, learn and handle difficult situations without the need to recreate disruptive incidents or disturb the customers’ shopping experience.

Ultimately, everything associates do is geared toward giving customers the best experience. Through VR, associates can see how their actions affect that. It’s helpful for associates to see mistakes in a virtual environment and know how to deal with them before they experience it in real life and don’t know what to do.

From our test, we’ve seen that associates who go through VR training retain what they’ve learned in those situations better than those who haven’t. Because of the promising results, we’ll be rolling out this training to all 200 of our Academy facilities by the end of 2017. That means, the over 140,000 associates who will graduate from academies each year will have VR as an integral part of that experience.

“When they said we were going to be using VR for training, I thought it was brilliant,” said Sean Gough, Academy facilitator at our Broken Arrow, Oklahoma store. “From cashier to lawn and garden, to electronics or fresh – there are just so many areas where I think this training would be so helpful.” As we test and learn from using this technology, we’re sure to find more and more ways to apply it.

When Sean first tried the VR training, he was able to virtually transport to another store and see how they were running things. It gave him a different perspective, which he felt would be great for store managers to experience. As a manager, you don’t usually have time to travel to other stores to see how things are done, but this technology would allow them to travel to a store across the country without even leaving their own store.

“I feel really proud that Walmart would invest so much in training, particularly at the level they have,” Sean said. And he is proud to play a part in this investment. As an Academy teacher, Sean helps others be leaders and experts in customer satisfaction. He enjoys seeing the associates he’s taught pass on that training, because this helps create futures for others.

Sean sees a great sense of pride from the people going through his Academy. As associates see all of the technology and enthusiasm we put into making them better, it encourages them, makes them feel good about their job – feel good about working for Walmart. Sean commented, “I think people leave my class thinking 'Walmart cares and they take care of me.'”

What’s so great about using VR? Well, it’s really easy to use – as easy as using a smartphone. It creates a passion about learning because we’re trying something new. And associates are better able to retain what they’ve learned.

Yeah, it’s cool. But it actually works. And it’s all thanks to a little football.

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Community

A Common Thread Is Woven Between Women Veterans

Last year, I was dealing with some major life issues: transitioning careers as an older adult and stressing about loved ones who were incarcerated. My energy was low, and my self-identity was in question. As a single, divorced mom of two young adults, I was trying to be strong and cope with life all alone.

I realized I hadn’t had a great support system since I’d left the Marines over 20 years ago. That was my missing puzzle piece – I needed to find fellow women veterans who understood my experiences and the special bond that military service provides.

I’d tried many times over the years to find such a sounding board, but continually came up short. I knew there were a lot of people with similar experiences out there, but I thought maybe they were like me and hesitant to speak up about their service.

Then suddenly, just when life was hardest and I needed support the most, I found Women Veterans Network (WoVeN), a support group made specifically for women like me.

After attending one of their community focus groups, I eagerly joined WoVeN, and as Marines say, I hit the ground running. I never imagined something so simple could be so life changing, but this organization – and more specifically, the women in it – gave me the spark I needed to push myself to be better and do more.

WoVeN provided me a non-judgmental environment to openly express myself, communicate with and support other women veterans. And when that group came together, it created an atmosphere of energy, respect and understanding that I’d never witnessed in my life. I felt comfortable. The group was motivating and encouraging. I felt a sense of comradeship I hadn’t experienced in years. WoVeN accepted me as-is and put me back on the path to improving my quality of life.

Since then, I’ve been inspired to take personal responsibility for my health and wellbeing. From mountain biking and completing a 5K, to developing new skills and better managing my stress, having this network of women has helped me improve not only my life, but also my family’s.

Because this was such a valuable experience, I wanted to do more to give back. I’ve started to reach out to other women veterans and engage with them outside of the WoVeN community. Now, I have an extended family I can call on anytime. My hope is that WoVeN will continue to grow and reach more women veterans all over this country, so they can have the same experience and support I have.

In 2017, the Walmart Foundation awarded a $469,000 grant to the Boston University School of Medicine (BU) to support the establishment of the WoVeN initiative. Through WoVeN, BU clinicians and researchers are leading a five-year initiative to establish a nationwide network of structured, trained peer-facilitated, 10-week support groups for women veterans to enhance wellness, quality of life, family relationships and referrals for additional services. Today, the Walmart Foundation is building on the existing grant to BU and is bringing its total commitment to WoVeN to nearly $720,000 with the announcement of an additional $250,782 grant. The program is projected to reach approximately 2,500 women veterans by the end of 2022.

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Opportunity

An Easier Path Forward to Re-enter the Workforce

For many women like me, who take a career pause to focus on family and caregiving, returning to the workforce can be daunting, having to justify your prior experience at every turn.

And, also the self-doubt that comes along with it. Do I have the right skills? Is my experience still relevant? Who will hire me? Can I even juggle it all? These are just a few of the questions I faced when I decided to restart my career after a six-year hiatus to raise my two daughters. I shouldn't have had to though, because I was qualified and my experience was relevant. Experience doesn’t just disappear.

When I decided to return to the workforce, I suddenly had a lack of confidence – I thought, “no one is going to hire me.” Despite nearly four years of working in the financial industry and three years as a senior HR manager at the world’s largest fashion goods retailer, I felt I had to start all over. To get my foot back in the door, I accepted an administrative role in the payments technology industry.

It took several years of working my way through the ranks just to reach the same level of responsibility I had enjoyed at my previous job, and another several years to reach a position of greater authority. It also took important mentorships and people seeing something in me – that sometimes I didn’t see in myself anymore – to not only get back to where I was, but to find the confidence in myself again. Slowly but surely, my confidence came back. I’m very proud of my accomplishments there, but can’t help but wonder where my career would have taken me, or how much faster I would have advanced, if I hadn’t felt the need to start over.

About three years ago I started working at Walmart and I was greeted with an amazing culture based on a people-first value system.

Shortly after joining the team, Walmart recognized my potential and I was quickly promoted to positions of greater responsibility within Walmart’s global e-commerce and technology group. I now serve as Walmart Labs’ Vice President of People and am part of a team whose job is to create opportunities for employees to thrive in the workplace and at home. Our team wants to give everyone opportunities to succeed without sacrificing family or career. That’s why I’m pleased to announce a new partnership between Walmart and Path Forward, a nonprofit organization with a mission to empower people to restart their careers after time away for caregiving.

Beginning this fall, Walmart’s tech division, Walmart Labs, and Path Forward will offer a return-to-work program in our Sunnyvale and San Bruno offices. The program places an emphasis on learning and development and the gaining (and retraining) of skills, such as software engineering, product development and more. It will be open to women and men who have at least five years of professional experience and who took a career pause of at least two years for caregiving. In addition to dedicated professional development workshops, participants will have access to networking opportunities across the Walmart and Path Forward communities. After completing the four-month program, qualified candidates will be considered for conversion to full-time opportunities at Walmart.

The Path Forward program is a win-win for everyone on so many levels. Helping people restart their careers after caregiving is great for individuals and their families, great for the economy and a great opportunity for Walmart to tap highly-skilled, educated and motivated associates. With programs like Path Forward, caregivers will no longer feel like their career or opportunity for future prosperity has passed them by. In fact, their best years may be ahead of them yet.

If you are interested in applying to our Path Forward program, please head here.

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Business

A First Look at The New Fashion Experience on Walmart.com

Today, we announced the opening of the Lord & Taylor flagship store on Walmart.com.

As many of you know, we recently introduced our new specialty fashion shopping destination, which offers a modern shopping experience with editorial elements that inspire customers to browse and shop. This is something I’m personally excited about, as it will dramatically enhance our customer experience.

The launch of the new Lord & Taylor store takes our fashion shopping experience to the next level and will introduce more than 125 new premium brands to our Walmart customers. I’m really proud of the new flagship. The images are beautiful and inspiring. It’s on trend. It’s easy to navigate.

Over the coming weeks, customers will begin to see two different shops within Walmart.com’s fashion destination: Everyday Brands, where millions of affordable and fabulous on-trend items will live, and Premium Brands from Lord & Taylor. You can get a first look at the new experience below.

Whether customers are looking for a basic tee or the perfect summer dress, we want them to be able to find what they are looking for on Walmart.com. The Lord & Taylor store is one of many steps we are taking to establish Walmart.com as a destination for fashion.

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Opportunity

Blazing New (Con)trails: A Day with a Walmart Pilot

Growing up in northern Costa Rica, Marjorie Blanco and her twin sister would hear the distant hum of an engine and immediately race outside to get a glimpse of an airplane flying over their small town.

These days, Marjorie is the one in the cockpit, flying a Bombardier Learjet 45 XR for Walmart Central America, a market in which women pilots are largely unheard of. We caught up with Marjorie to hear about her average day, in her own words:

3:45 a.m. – Most of the flights our team makes are international, so my day often starts quite early. I do my hair and makeup and put on my Walmart Aviation polo with black trousers. The good thing about a uniform is that I don’t have to decide what to wear. When I flew for a commercial airline, we wore the typical pilot’s uniform (a white button down shirt with epaulets on the shoulders), but Walmart pilots do not wear any insignia to distinguish their ranks.

4:30 a.m. – In Costa Rica, we eat a big breakfast. I like to make plantains, eggs, and a traditional Latin American rice and beans dish called gallopinto. It’s important for me, as a pilot, to eat a nutritious breakfast in order to stay sharp and energized throughout the morning.

5:00 a.m. – With no traffic, it takes me around 20 minutes to drive from my home to the San José airport. I park in the airport employee parking lot and head to the international terminal where I meet my boss, David, and a handler who helps us navigate immigration and security. We take a shuttle that is waiting for us to go to the Aviation International Ramp where the aircraft is parked. It’s quite a process just to get to work!

6:00 a.m. – I arrive at the Walmart plane an hour before take-off. Our mechanic, José, has arrived two hours before in order to get the plane ready. I load my backpack, iPad, and tools onto the plane and then do a thorough walk-around the outside of the plane. This includes checking the wheels, brakes, lights and entire outside of the aircraft. Then we move inside the aircraft and turn on the airplane. We check the avionics, safety features, and oxygen quantities. We listen to the meteorological conditions at the airport, request clearance from the control tower, and upload the route into the flight management system. This is just a portion of the Standard Operating Procedure checklist we run through before each flight.

6:30 a.m. – Before each flight, David and I head to the cabin for a briefing. During the briefing, we review what to expect on this trip, departure procedures, altitudes, directions, and everything related to the safety of the flight. We discuss our normal procedures and what to do if something doesn’t go as planned. Walmart pilots do this for every flight, even if they have been flying for 20 years like David has.

6:45 a.m. – When the passengers arrive, we greet them and help them board. Typically, our passengers are Walmart executives travelling to neighboring countries – Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and the U.S. Once the passengers are settled, we review safety procedures and get ready to take off.

7:00 – 8:15 a.m. – As the Pilot in Command, David chooses who will fly first. While he flies, I will handle the radio communication. We switch tasks on the return trip so that we both work equally.

9:00 a.m. – After we reach our destination and our passengers depart, the crew often shares a meal together. One of my favorite parts of the job is trying different kinds of food from Central America.

11:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. – If possible, I rest so that I am refreshed and alert for the return trip.

3:30 p.m. – We make our way back through security and immigration and repeat the entire process from this morning – the walk-around, checking the avionics, crew briefing, everything. We take our responsibilities seriously; it’s important not to become complacent about safety.

5:00 – 6:30 p.m. – In the air! Every flight is an adventure. We face challenging weather and runways, and airports surrounded by mountains. We also enjoy amazing views from beautiful landscapes. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of this.

6:15 p.m. – We touch down in San José, and José, our mechanic, meets us to take care of the plane. The passengers take the shuttle to the airport while I stay on the plane to do the debrief. After another walk around, José takes the airplane back to the hangar, and I make my way to my vehicle.

6:45 p.m. – Terrible traffic! My drive to work takes 20 minutes, but my drive home takes more than double that!

7:30 p.m. – I love to stay active, and I often swim to relax, clear my mind, and stay in shape.

8:30 p.m. – I usually keep dinner light with just a piece of grilled tuna and a salad. Then I might look at Instagram for a few minutes. On the weekends I watch Netflix (right now I am loving La Casa de Papel), but I don’t want to get into a stimulating show when I have to be up early the next morning. I have to be strict about bedtime in order to get enough rest.

9:00 p.m. – Lights out! My day is a long one, but it is so worth it to be able to pursue my passion and live my dream each day.

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