[caption id="attachment_232499" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Walmart leadership congratulate associates that have completed the associate-to-driver program, each handing a Walmart hat to the 16 candidates that completed the program. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
DOVER — Years ago, Don Frieson was moving merchandise at a Walmart distribution center in Pennington, N.J. It was a tough place to work, with the pressure of unloading packages, sorting and stocking tractor trailers.So when he first heard about Walmart’s new Associate-to-Driver(A2D) program, he was quick to apply.“My first time I didn’t get accepted, so I kept trying. And after the fifth time, I got that phone call. I almost jumped off the roof,” Frieson said on Friday morning. “The first week was hard. Learning to drive a 70-foot trailer is a challenge, but it was one I was willing to accept. Sometimes, I thought I couldn’t do it. But we all were able to push through.”Frieson was one of 16 associates who received a certificate, Walmart trucker hat, road atlas and tool kit in a graduation ceremony at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover on Friday. The candidates came from all over the mid-Atlantic region to learn how to drive a tractor-trailer for Walmart’s private fleet.
[caption id="attachment_232520" align="alignleft" width="300"] Donald Frieson used to be a warehouse associate, and will now see an earning potential up to $110,000 as a truck driver with Walmart's private fleet. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
Truck drivers have the earning potential of $110,000, according to company officials.“That alone has a huge economic impact on someone’s life. It’s pretty awesome,” Walmart Fleet Smyrna Site Manager Ryan Boyer said. “The program is really developed through collaboration between drivers, operations, leadership and other safety professionals to make sure our drivers are successful and up to our standards.”The central Delaware class also marked major milestones for Walmart: it was part of the largest class to date, with 70 associates graduating this cycle. It was also the first time the A2D program was opened to Walmart stores and Sam’s Club employees, rather than just those that work in the distribution center.One such associate is Michael Sanchez, who has worked with Walmart for 25 years.“I left Oxford as a team leader about three months ago. Now today, I have the honor and privilege of saying I am a Walmart truck driver … and I drive for the best private fleet out there,” Sanchez said.In April 2022, Walmart announced the A2D Program where associates would have the chance to earn a commercial driving license (CDL) and be trained to meet Walmart fleet standards in a 12-week course. The pilot program started only in Dallas and Smyrna, home to a 1.2 million square-foot regional general merchandise distribution center and transportation hub.The A2D Program was launched to hire aggressively as more customers were shopping online or using Walmart’s grocery curbside pickup or delivery options.When considering where to place training facilities, Walmart Senior Director of Supply Chain Michael Del Rosario told Delaware Business Times that Smyrna's location made it ideal to draw candidates from the mid-Atlantic region.“We did have a hiring need in the Northeast, and if you look at it, a lot of the population is here and that would support a center. For us, it’s about how we can provide a bigger opportunity to any associate,” he said. “We definitely expect to sustain the program, if not grow it.”
[caption id="attachment_232502" align="alignright" width="300"] Walmart Sire Manager Ryan Boyer holds a Walmart trucker hat, which each 16 graduates of the Associate-to-Driver class receives. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
Today, there are seven Walmart transportation centers that have graduated 190 associates. By the end of the year, the program will be offered fromall transportation offices, providing even more associates with the opportunity to join the company’s private fleet.By bringing the program internally, Walmart also provides much of the investment in workforce development. CDLs can cost between $3,000 and $10,000 and training can take months. Walmart has transitioned seven drivers, many who have years of experience under their belts, to instructors for classes at Smyrna's facility. Robert Benton is one of those instructors, who has worked as a professional driver for 27 years and Walmart for eight years.“A lot of the drivers were skeptical about this, and to be honest, I was one of them,” Benton said during the graduation ceremony. “But this program is needed with the shortage of truck drivers and with drivers retiring at Walmart.”He also noted that training store and warehouse associates, ironically, helped from a training perspective. Instead of learning “good habits” and abandoning bad practices that experienced drivers have picked up over the years, the candidates were essentially blank slates.“I do believe this is the best opportunity to train safe drivers who are already part of the culture,” Benton said. “There’s still some evaluation and training to go, but you will be proud to wear that white shirt, and I have no doubt we will be celebrating your million miles in the future.”