Opportunity

How Tech Can Bridge the Employment Opportunity Gap

Having recently arrived to the U.S. from Cape Verde, Africa, Solange is eager to improve her English and pass her citizenship exam. She hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and build a brighter future for her two young girls.

Now a hotel room attendant, she has limited time to study. But through a new program available on her smartphone, she can take courses anytime, anywhere, right from the palm of her hand.

Technology is quickly changing how we live our lives, helping to make so many things easier, cheaper and faster. It’s also changing the way we work. Research suggests that innovations like artificial intelligence have the potential to significantly shift what certain types of work look like in the future.

While these changes might cause some to worry, they also provide an incredible opportunity to help us work in ways we haven’t before. Imagine being able to match your unique skillsets, strengths and personality in a way that helps you find the right job. Or learning new skills through an app or platform that performs as easily as social media does. Or technology that connects you directly to services that can help overcome specific career barriers.

Helping bring technologies like these to life is exactly what the Employment Technology Fund (ETF) has set out to do. Funded by the Walmart, Rockefeller, Joyce and W.K. Kellogg Foundations, the ETF invests in organizations and companies that have developed technology-enabled solutions that help workers overcome the barriers that often hold them back from advancing their skills, connecting to meaningful work and ultimately living up to their full potential. In doing so, the ETF strives to increase equal opportunities for millions of working adults – many of whom are women, minorities and immigrants.

ETF's latest social investments include Signal Vine, a company that uses text messaging to deliver highly personalized and interactive coaching to drive better behaviors and outcomes; SkillSmart, a skills-matching platform that increases transparency in the career development and job search process; and Nepris, a video-driven platform that provides teachers and students a way to connect with professionals around the world. These three companies exemplify a growing force of new entrepreneurs who share the belief that technology can drive social and economic progress.

With additional funding from the Walmart Foundation, ETF is working with The EdTech Center at World Education to field test the products ETF has invested in and provide the larger workforce development field with information about effective employment technology products and practices.

Currently, World Education is field testing ETF’s first two portfolio companies– Cell-Ed and Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment – both of which have national and international reach. In Boston, Seaport Hotel employees who are studying workplace English have just started extending their learning on Cell-Ed, a mobile solution offering interactive text and audio lessons over cellular, rather than internet. Adult learners, including refugees and dislocated workers, in computer and job skills programs across Minneapolis and at libraries in Providence, Rhode Island, user tested newly updated Northstar assessments before formal release last week.

When we embrace the changes technology innovation sends our way, we’re better able to harness the opportunities it provides us. ETF is proud to be working together with like-minded companies and organizations to find technology solutions that will help bring meaningful employment to all.

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Opportunity

Army Principles Helped This Walmart Manager Move Up the Ranks

Elise Hackstall no longer wears an Army uniform. But to this day, the military values she learned in her years of service still inform her identity.

Take, for example, the honor code she learned as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy: She’s been known to quote it when talking to her 10-year-old daughter about the importance of honesty.

Then there’s a skill she honed as an Army personnel officer: Be direct and constructive, even when the message you’re conveying might be tough to hear.

For Hackstall, commitment, accountability and leadership weren’t abstract principles but essential traits that propelled her through a military career at Fort Knox.

When she joined Walmart, she quickly noticed a cultural overlap. The company's four basic beliefs had plenty in common with the seven Army values she already knew, sharing an emphasis on respect and integrity.

"A lot of it aligned with who I was," Hackstall says, "so that made Walmart a great fit for me."

That was over 10 years ago. Since then, Hackstall has been promoted multiple times. She started as a shift manager in Columbus, Georgia and became store manager at the biggest Walmart Supercenter in her market. That led her to an opportunity to move into human resources management.

Putting in the (Team) Work

Most recently, she moved back to operations as a developmental market manager, training to supervise teams across multiple stores. This position will give her the skills to apply for market manager positions that open up after her training is complete.

The training, along with her previous position as a market human resources manager across stores in four states, has introduced Hackstall to Walmart employees from a variety of backgrounds.

"It's really helped me to have a bigger appreciation of what kind of people make up our business—people from all over the country who help our stores to be successful," she says.

Hackstall's longstanding interest in human resources work extends back to her Army service at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where she was stationed after graduating from West Point. Hackstall served as a personnel officer and continued in human resources positions after transitioning to the Army Reserve in 2008.

She continued to serve as a reserve officer until this past spring, when she left the military to focus on her career with Walmart.

Hiring Heroes

Walmart is committed to recruiting former military members and matching them with jobs that fit their skills. Hackstall points out three skills that veterans often carry into civilian life: communication, commitment and accountability.

Military people know how to come up with a plan, articulate that plan and carry it out. When a store manager needs someone to run point on Black Friday, the biggest retail day of the year, she says, "If there's a veteran in the store, many times that's the person."

Hackstall adds that Walmart helps to create a network for the veterans it recruits. Recently, she talked with someone who was leaving the military and considering coming to Walmart. What advice did she offer?

"Anybody who joins Walmart will quickly realize whether the company is a fit for them or not," she says. "It's fast-paced, you have to be extremely adaptable, and you can't be rigid in your thought process."

"Limitless" Job Opportunities

Hackstall notes that Walmart offers a broad range of roles that might not be obvious to candidates who think mainly of the day-to-day tasks at a store. From medical services to real estate to information systems, Walmart's size creates all kinds of job types.

"There are limitless opportunities with this company," she says. "Whatever you want to do—short of being a brain surgeon or an astronaut—you can do for Walmart."

For Hackstall, spending time in her new role as developmental market manager fits with her long-term plan to gain experience in multiple facets of Walmart's business. When asked about the future, she doesn't hesitate.

"My end goal is to be the head of HR for the company," she says. "Every single position that I've taken has been to make sure that I am putting myself in a place where I can be competitive for that role."

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Opportunity

Blue Star Families Helps Unsung Heroes: Military Spouses

When I said, “I do” under a bower of roses to my husband, resplendent in his Marine Corps dress blues, I had no idea that the years ahead would bring the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the long war, many combat deployments and many moves.

I love my husband and found extraordinary meaning in helping to serve my country. Along the way, I also found that the costs can be very high.

Like many military spouses, I moved. I moved and moved again. I’ve lost careers that I cared about – and was good at. These jobs helped support my family while resettling my children and maintaining a home for my husband as he retrained and left again. It’s a lonely place to be. But I wasn’t alone.

Many military spouses deal with additional obstacles like putting the needs of the military above their own career goals. These obstacles can make full-time employment nearly impossible. That’s one of the reasons why a group of military spouses (including myself) got together in 2009 to create Blue Star Families, a national nonprofit dedicated to empowering military families. We want our families to thrive by providing them resources, support and connections to their civilian communities.

According to Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey, most military spouses are not working. More than 75% of military spouses surveyed say that being a military spouse has hurt their career, and more than half of those not employed are actively seeking work. Of the minority of spouses who do work consistently, most earn less than $20,000 a year.

This kind of financial instability hurts military families. We know that dual income military families are able to better participate in their local communities and thrive while they serve. But, unlike their civilian counterparts, most military families face more hardships and uncertainties, because they volunteered to serve.

This is why Blue Star Families applauds Walmart for their new initiative to tackle this challenge affecting our military and their families. Walmart is rolling out their Military Spouse Career Connection. Beginning November 12, 2018, military spouses who apply for a job with Walmart or Sam’s Club will be given preferential hiring status.

Military spouses move so frequently that delays in hiring can mean they are not able to work at all during a duty station. Walmart and Sam’s Club can be a particularly good career path for military spouses, because there’s almost certainly a Walmart store anywhere the military sends families in the United States.

Blue Star Families is also working to solve the problem of military spouse unemployment. One of our major initiatives in this area is Spouseforce, an interactive platform for career-minded military spouses. It works in some ways like a dating app--both employer and employee can identify a possibly compatible match before making any contact.

It’s my hope that our combined efforts will help military families become more financially independent, and that spouses will have greater access to fulfilling, meaningful careers they can take with them wherever the military sends them.

I invite you to learn more about Blue Star Families and join us as a Blue Star Neighbor to show you’re a supporter of military families. When you stand with us, you help us create more opportunities for military families in your neighborhood, across the country and around the world.

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Community

In the ‘Nick’ of Time, Walmart Driver Helps Hurricane Baby

The week that Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, Florida, Nick Davis, like many other Walmart drivers, chose to forgo his regular trucking route.

With a shower trailer hitched to the back of his truck, he left his home in LaGrange, Georgia, to meet associates and their families at a local motel where they took shelter from damaged homes in the wake of the storm. That’s where he met Lorrainda, her husband, Wilmer, and their newborn son, Luke – a family in search of shelter after being discharged from the hospital and without a home only three days after Luke was born.

“If that was me and my family, I would want help.” Nick said, remembering the moment he saw Luke and his parents. So that’s what he did, along with several other Walmart truck drivers helping on the ground. “I was there at the right time and I wasn’t going to let them go.”

Nick and the team at the Walmart supercenter on Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach gathered last week to give Luke’s parents the baby shower they deserve, complete with one year of free Parent’s Choice diapers. You can see more of their story in the video above.

Editor’s note: Disaster relief remains one of the top priorities for charitable giving from Walmart, the Walmart Foundation and Sam’s Club, with a combined total of over $12 million contributed to hurricane response and relief just this year.

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Opportunity

Meet the Designer of 4.co, Our Microsoft x Walmart Office in ATX

Innovation is a bit of an obsession at Walmart, and Katey Barron is here for it.

Years ago, Katey helped to bring time-saving technologies, like the Auto-S shelf scanner, to Walmart. Today she’s also behind the unfolding of many spaces where teams work to make innovation happen. Officially a director who’s helping manage Walmart’s migration of its thousands of enterprise applications to the cloud, Katey recently helped with a transformation of a very different kind: acting as designer for her team’s new tech headquarters in Austin, Texas, which is now in the running as Austin Business Journal’s “Coolest Building in Austin.”

Flashback to the year 2012, when Katey was just hired as a temporary worker in Walmart’s then-new Innovation Lab (which today has evolved into an incubator called Store No. 8). Her job at that time was to give company leadership tours of the futuristic technologies that could help empower associates and make different areas of the business more efficient, like machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Over time, Katey realized she had an interest in serving the startups that were presenting their technologies to Walmart.

“I was spending a lot of time with startup founders, and I fell in love with their passion for ideas,” she said. “These people are proud and excited to come into work every day and collaborate. That self-starter energy is something I wanted to expand on.”

While working at Walmart headquarters in Northwest Arkansas, Katey helped with the renovation of the David Glass Technology Center, and designed Exchange in Bentonville, a venue that offers free workspace to startups in the area and connects them with other enterprises so they can innovate together. When it came time to start designing the space for Walmart Tech ATX, a home-base for the company’s highly-skilled tech professionals, it was clear that her experience could be valuable.

“My passion for design comes from wanting to serve startups and give them what they need – and really, I’ve just always loved furniture. At Walmart Tech, these associates genuinely enjoy being around each other and diving into the work they do,” Katey said. “We wanted to make it a space they could be comfortable in, proud of and enjoy coming to work every day.”

The headquarters in downtown Austin, which opened in February, carries the sleek, industrial feel of its former warehouse, which at one point was the original location of the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater chain. Katey’s favorite part of the space – a mural by local artist Mike “Truth” Johnston – blends the heritage of both Walmart and the city of Austin, with iconic images like Sam Walton’s red pickup truck, the Austin skyline and the Alamo Drafthouse.

“We did an open floor plan designed around flexible spaces, where different teams can rotate and work.”

Katey outfitted the office with an eclectic color palette and furniture from Hayneedle, Jet.com and Walmart.com. With no single style dominating the office and pockets of seating space for different teams, the office comes together as a space where associates say they feel comfortable and enjoy spending time with one another.

"My whole team here in Austin feels really connected — with each other and with the local area.” said Jason Norris, senior director of engineering for Walmart Technology. “We partner with local startups and other interest groups to host meet-ups in our office, and it’s really building that sense of community. I think my favorite part of the design is the flexibility that allows us to host these kinds of after-hours events, while also providing our team a productive working environment during business hours."

These experiences have paved the way for Katey to work on an even bigger collaborative project: leading a team called 4.co, in which Walmart and Microsoft engineers will work side-by-side for the first time ever to accelerate Walmart’s transformation to the Microsoft cloud. And of course, Katey is helping design the space within Walmart Tech ATX where 4.co will operate.

“The power of the project is that we’re co-locating top engineers from both companies,” she explained, “and the result will be a more connected, seamless experience for our associates and our suppliers.”

Whatever Katey’s project, it’s clear that collaboration and innovation are at the heart of both Walmart Tech, and her career.

“I’ve always taken the attitude that you may have to teach me some new things, but I’ll jump right in, I’ll learn, and I won’t say no to a new opportunity,” she said. “I’m glad I have, because it’s allowed me to follow my passions and build a career I really love.”

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