Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.
But it wasn't a school that the about 50 participants were graduating from Thursday — it was the first class to move on from Walmart's fledgling Pinellas County in-house training academy. The academies train department managers and hourly supervisors in department-specific skills and leadership. There are currently eight in Florida.
"We're in business to serve customers," Elise Vasquez-Warner, Walmart regional general manager, said. "If our associates aren't equipped well to do their jobs, we're going to be lacking (in) that."
Located at 10237 Bay Pines Blvd. N., the Seminole training academy is Walmart's 142nd training facility and one of about 200 that Walmart will open by the end of the year. About 90 employees will be trained each week from nearly 20 stores in the area.
Walmart launched its in-house training program in 2016 to train supervisors, assistant managers and department managers. Before the academies, training often occurred on-the-job. Academy sessions typically run between two and five weeks depending on an employee's position, though some can be as brief as a few days.
Stephen A. North, a general merchandise support manager at Walmart, was part of the Seminole academy's first class. Most of his training focused on new tools for his position, such as iPads. He hopes to eventually become an instructor in the academy.
"I take a lot of enjoyment from helping my fellow associates advance," he said. "I've seen people get promoted past me, and that gives me a lot of satisfaction knowing I helped them."
In addition to passing out diplomas, Walmart leadership at the ceremony also gave out nearly $165,000 in grants to local organizations. The money was raised by the Walmart Foundation and individual Walmart stores. The largest grants went to Feeding Tampa Bay, which received $50,000, and Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, which received $88,034.
Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo on Twitter.