Home improvement giant Lowe’s has teamed up with Guild Education, an education network for working adults, to offer its employees a new avenue of development. The Track to the Trades initiative is designed to present career alternatives to Lowe’s employees and ensure they get the support they need to pursue those careers.
“We wanted to broaden the career spectrum for Americans and what they do,” said Melody Thuston, senior PR specialist at Lowe’s. “Although we have long offered a tuition reimbursement program, the Track to the Trades initiative is a first of its kind by focusing specifically on pre-apprenticeships for skilled trades careers.”
Starting March 1, the collaborative initiative began rolling out in Charlotte, Denver, Pittsburgh and Richmond. This brief, four-city pilot will be followed by nationwide implementation of the program. Lowe’s has plans for completion by the end of 2018. The expanded application of the program will reach the company’s more than 290,000 full- and part-time employees.
Those who choose to undergo the training enroll in six- to 10-month pre-apprenticeships that will set them up for careers in carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing or appliance repair. According to Lowe’s research, these are the most in-demand sectors of the skilled trade industry.
The Track to the Trades program recognizes that employees likely will not be team members at Lowe’s forever but encourages them to remain in the industries that they serve. The program will offer eligible employees incentives to learn whether they choose to pursue a skilled trade after training or stay on with the company. Learners will receive funding for skill certifications, academic coaching and support through Guild, as well as access to Lowe’s network of contractors to search for apprenticeships after training.
“Our purpose of helping people love where they live requires having affordable and available contractors for home improvement projects,” Thuston said. “By taking critical steps today to invest in our own workforce, we can begin to solve this critical issue.”
Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild, said that companies partnering with Guild saw around a 127 percent return on investment on average. In addition, Lowe’s expects increased retention and upped recruitment because of its newly updated benefits.
Aside from the obvious benefits to Lowe’s and its employees, the new program is positioned to help remedy the larger problem of the dwindling number of skilled tradespeople in the workforce.
The skilled trades have been in a state of decline for nearly a decade. As older generations leave physically demanding skilled work behind, younger workers have focused their careers elsewhere. Consequently, the skilled trade industries have faced a shortage of interested and able candidates. “Leveraging BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] data, Lowe’s believes there can be more than a half million commercial and residential construction jobs available by 2026,” Thuston said. “It’s not slowing down.”
Jobs in the skilled trades typically don’t require a college degree, offer steady work and often offer competitive salaries and benefits. “There’s a real opportunity there, and opportunity for our students to advance their earning potential and grow their career in those trades,” Carlson said. However, these positions remain largely unfilled due to stigma around labor jobs.
Four-year degrees and traditional learning paths are heavily emphasized in America, and the skilled trades often are not seen as a viable career option, even as higher education remains out of reach for many frontline workers. The skills gap continues to widen, primarily because careers in the skilled trades are seen as a default, Thuston said. Apprenticeships are presented as a solution, but many do not have the basic skills to begin these programs.
“We’ve taken that problem away for the learner,” Carlson said.
Mariel Tishma is an editorial intern at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.