Corporate Culture, Leadership, Salary & Benefits

Helping to Grow a Workforce

Companies often offer education and training, to further the skills of their employees and attract job candidates. A new initiative by home improvement retailer Lowe’s aims to do this, and more.

Source: MarioGuti / E+ / Getty

On Feb. 22, Lowe’s announced Track to the Trades, a workforce development initiative that intends to provide career alternatives and financial support for employees to pursue a skilled trade. The program is supported in partnership with Guild Education, an adult education company.

An Industry Issue

In an announcement at its website, Lowe’s points out that the initiative comes at a time when the skilled trade industry is experiencing a rapidly declining workforce.

It then cites statistics: “According to the Home Improvement Research Institute, more than 60 percent of skilled trade professionals agree that there is a shortage of labor in the construction industry. The same study reports ongoing hiring challenges for professional contractors, with 40 percent of pros looking to expand their job site workforce.”

Getting Down to Details

To begin addressing this critical trade skills gap while also providing employees with a variety of career paths and economic opportunity, Lowe’s is offering employees:

  • Upfront tuition funding for trade skill certification
  • Academic coaching and support
  • Placement opportunities for full-time pre-apprenticeships in Lowe’s nationwide contractor network or continued growth with Lowe’s

On March 1, Lowe’s launched Track to the Trades in four cities: Charlotte, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Richmond. The program will be expanded to all qualified Lowe’s part-time and full-time employee nationwide by the end of 2018.

Eligible employees will receive up to $2,500 to gain a certification and serve as a pre-apprentice in carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing or appliance repair careers. Pre-apprenticeships take approximately six to 10 months, and participants will also receive enrollment guidance and a field mentor.

“The trade profession is a high-demand, high-opportunity field for the next generation workforce, and today, there is a massive unmet need,” said Jennifer L. Weber, Lowe’s chief human resources officer. “With Track to the Trades, we are providing unique career alternatives for our associates while also building a pipeline for the next generation of skilled trade workers, allowing us to better meet the demands of customers while creating long-term educational benefits and economic opportunity for our people.”

Bigger Picture

While the details surrounding Track to the Trades are interesting and newsworthy, here’s what makes the program different from those offered by most companies.

At the end of its announcement, Lowe’s notes how the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the nation’s need for workers in the skilled trades is increasing much faster than the growth of employment overall. Lowe’s then goes on to cite its own analysis of BLS data projections, and concludes that the nation will experience a skilled trades gap of more than a half million jobs across construction-related fields by 2026.

“Lowe’s Track to the Trades program is a first step toward rebuilding the skilled trades workforce and infusing pride back into trade professions that are vital to society,” the company notes.

And that’s not all.

“Lowe’s is leading the way on pre-apprenticeship models that prepare employees for jobs of the future, both while working at Lowe’s and beyond in their careers,” said Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild Education.

The company and its partner indicate that the Track to the Trades program is intended to support and help grow a workforce for the skilled trade industry – an industry that includes small businesses, many of which are Lowe’s customers. Lowe’s and Guild Education also recognize that the initiative may lead to employees seeking job opportunities elsewhere – including, possibly, with these customers. But they’re good with that.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.