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For Tech Workers Turned Caregivers, Walmart Offers a Path Back to the Cutting Edge

By Daniel B. Kline – May 9, 2019 at 5:37AM

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The retailer is expanding an innovative program for people whose career breaks have left them less than au courant.

In some fields, if you aren't actively keeping up with the latest trends and tools, your skills can rapidly go from current to out of date. That's especially true for workers in the tech sector, where innovation happens particularly quickly.

This is problematic for people who take extended breaks from their tech-industry careers, maybe to raise a child or perhaps to take care of an elderly parent. Even a moderately long-term illness could leave a once highly skilled individual well behind the curve, making it difficult for them to reenter the workforce.

Walmart (WMT -0.80%) wants to help some of those outmoded techies. The retailer is expanding a "returnship" program that gives people who have at least five years of technology-industry experience, but who have been away from the workforce for a couple of years or more as caregivers, an opportunity to come back and get up to date.

A person uses an app in a Walmart store.

You may not think of Walmart as a technology company but it has over 5,000 tech workers doing everything from innovating its app to improving its logistics. Image source: Walmart.

What is Walmart doing?

Even though Walmart operates at the cutting edge of retail innovation, it may not be the first place that job-hunting technology workers think to apply. Its lack of tech-world cachet makes it harder for the company to attract the talent it needs.

And it needs a lot -- Walmart Labs, the company's technology division, employs more than 5,000 software engineers, data scientists, designers, and product managers, according to a press release from Path Forward, which partners with Walmart to operate the returnship program.

So to fill its openings in that competitive segment of the job market, Walmart is using the program to recruit people who have shown they could fill such roles in the past, but who need a little help catching up on what they've missed.

"Our 2018 program with Path Forward was a big success for Walmart Labs. We had more than 30 women successfully complete returnships in our Silicon Valley office and retained three-quarters of them in full-time roles," said Walmart VP of People Bobbie Grafeld in the press release.

The expanded program will be offered this fall in Silicon Valley; Carlsbad, California; Reston, Virginia; and Walmart's hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas. This round will kick off with a May recruiting event in Sunnyvale, California. The actual training will begin in August. The company will also have kickoff events in Reston and Bentonville, but it has yet to set dates for those.

Smart innovation

This is one of those times where there's not much difference between doing the right thing and doing the pragmatic thing. Walmart is helping workers who have spent years honing their skills, but whose training is now a step or two behind the times. And while the numbers aren't huge yet, there's potential for them to become much larger. The returnship program gives talented people an entry back into the workforce, and gives the retailer the tech-adept (and potentially more-loyal) workers it needs. It's hard to see that as anything other than a win-win.

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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