[caption id="attachment_178896" align="aligncenter" width="728"] Walmart is launching a training program that will allow associates at its Smyrna distribution center, seen here, to train to become truck drivers. Drivers will now earn up to $110,000 per year. | DBT PHOTO BY ERIC CROSSAN[/caption]
SMYRNA — Walmart is launching a program that would give workers who unloaded trucks the opportunity to drive them — and tap into a new pay bump —at its Smyrna distribution center.The multinational retail giant has started a new initiative in the Smyrna and Dallas fulfillment centers that would give employees who work in distribution centers the opportunity to obtain a commercial driver’s license through a 12-week course. The program will be taught by Walmart truck drivers and will cover the $4,000 cost of a CDL.In addition, Walmart is raising pay for truck drivers to a range of $95,000 to $110,000, with the potential to go even higher, depending on miles driven, tenure and location. The original starting salary was $88,000.The move is geared to ensure that Walmart stays as one of the top retailers in the nation, and will help to “hire aggressively to meet all-time high demand from customers,” according to a Walmart statement. Walmart has 2.2 million employees nationwide, including 12,000 truck drivers.In Delaware, Walmart employs 4,500 people including 250 truck drivers. It ranks as Kent County’s fifth largest employer with 1,625 employees, according to Delaware Business Times research.Central Delaware was chosen as one of two locations to launch the truck driver training program based on existing employment at the distribution center. The 1.2 million-square-foot Smyrna regional distribution center is reportedly the largest employer in the town.Smyrna is also designated as an area where it needs to grow its truck driver fleet, according to Walmart representatives. Kent County has long been targeted as a prime area for distribution, warehousing and logistic services, due to ease of access to major highways that can reach Interstate 95. Within three hours of Delaware, a driver can reach New York City or Norfolk, Va.The 2016 Rockport Analytic study noted that trucking, warehousing and distribution would be a key component to the county’s success, with about $82 million in business activity served at the time. The same study shows $300 million in business activity in distribution from outside areas, making it a top sector for the Kent Economic Partnership to focus on in the years since.When it comes to Walmart, the retailer has a network of roughly 200 fulfillment and distribution centers that ship roughly 81% of its merchandise, according to a report conducted by the supply chain consultant MWPVL International Inc. With the rise of e-commerce and the pressure to match rival Amazon’s pandemic-fueled growth, many of these facilities have pivoted to meet online orders.Walmart has nine stores in Delaware, and only one regional distribution center. About 20 workers in Dallas and Smyrna have earned a CDL through the training program so far.Last year alone Walmart hired nearly 4,500 truck drivers, more than any other year in the company’s history, according to company representatives. But with the pandemic spurring supply chain issues and worker shortages, the American Trucking Association reports the trucking industry was short 80,000 drivers last year.Walmart offers truck drivers company benefits on day one, including as much as 21 days of paid leave in the first year, medical benefits, 401(k) with a 6% company match, an associate stock purchase plan and access to a free college degree, with Walmart paying for 100% of the cost of tuition and books through its Live Better U program.