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Detroit’s Schools Offer New Class: Working at Walmart

| Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 12 Comments

“When I grow up, I want to work at Walmart.” A phrase I would expect to be uncommon coming from high school students. However, in a city with a 50% unemployment rate and public schools struggling to stay open, the education system has joined with Walmart to help our country’s future generations learn to, well, work at Walmart.

Four inner-city Detroit high schools have teamed up with the world’s largest retailer to offer classes in “job-readiness training.” This program, launched last week, is during school hours and gives students high school credits toward graduation in addition to entry-level afterschool jobs. Sean Vann, principal at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, explained that 30 students at his school will get jobs at Walmart.

The bright side for the students? An opportunity to earn some money, stay off the street, and, as Vann optimistically suggested to the Detroit Free Press, “to be exposed to people from different cultures – since all of the stores are in the suburbs.” Plus, it will help students get ready for college, where they can major in bagging groceries.

The bright side for Walmart is obvious. Although the company employs more Americans than any other corporation, the retail giant has a turn-over rate of 70%. Why not train people when they’re young and malleable to be the perfect Walmart employee?

Which brings us to the negative side, expressed clearly by Donna Stern, a national coordinator for the activist group, BAMN. Stern attended the assembly at Douglass, one of the schools with the new Walmart classes, and objected to the program that would “train students to be subservient workers… not why parents send them to school.”

Or is it? Does public school breed creative entrepreneurs, or cogs in the corporate wheel? Do kids leave high school feeling motivated to invent the next Google? Or, do they just want a job. Not that working at Walmart is the worst vocation in the world. As anonymous in Louisiana put it “Thanks to Walmart, I have a job. Money isn’t everything, but a job is.”


▼▼▼      12 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • nickaster

    Given how messed up Detroit is, I'm leaning to think this is way better than nothing.

  • Rob Bryan

    Dear “anonymous in Louisiana”,
    What's that sucking sound I hear? Oh, it's the sound of Wal-Mart sucking the cash out of your community and sending it around the world to its absentee shareholders. How many stores and jobs would be needed to replace the Wal-Mart? Stores whose profits would go back into your community not someone somewhere who doesn't actually need it. Without Wal-Mart, you would have a higher paying job with benefits and wouldn't have to shop there.

    On the blog question- why do we as a society tolerate unemployment? Is it because the “rational” economists have business and government convinced that some level of unemployment (3%, 6% or whatever) is “efficient”? Not as a slight on our armed forces, high unemployment is also mechanism that drives people with few options to enlist. Nickaster, this is not better than nothing, that's a false dichotomy. It replaces something, not nothing.

    • Pete da Silva

      Rob is right on target. For every 2 jobs WalMart creates, 3 are lost in the community.
      These other guys are drinking the Kool Aid, as is the Detroit School Board.

  • mike allen

    Sad, but true. Keeping the kids off the streets and lowering the bar for them in terms of goals might be seen as giving up on encouraging them to shoot for the stars. But it does offer a practical alternative to receive a paycheck in a regional economy in shambles. They should also teach them to save their money for some kind of turnaround and maybe sometime in the future they can again focus on perhaps a more challenging career.

  • josh

    I have a hard time believing that “1 out of every 10 working Americans works at Wal-Mart.” Wal-mart employs 2 million people worldwide, and the total American workforce is around 150 million people.

    Sorry, but that math just doesn't add up.

    • Audrey

      Good catch, Josh. That should have read 1 out of 100, sorry!

  • Pangolin

    Please tell me what job at a WalMart store demands more than the skills learned by a smart eighth grader? Why doesn't the school board just admit that it's warehousing all but the tiny percentage who will get four-year technical or medical degrees after high school.

    There are millions of unemployed people in the US with college degrees or work towards college degrees. Blaming unemployment on lack of education is a scam.

  • Becca

    Those of us who actually work at WalMart actually joke that they could train a monkey to do our jobs. I knew a guy that could do it with out being able to read english cause he just matched numbers. This job takes a week to train for not a semester.
    Another thing is WalMart doesn't want long term employees. If you have been there more than a couple of years they start to make it clear head office wants you gone so the can pay some kid $7-$8 an hour with them at part time and no benefits.

  • Mark Lewis

    So now we've sunk to believing that “education” for black school kids means training them to sack groceries and check out the “culture” from all the red necks, hillbillies and white trash shopping at freaking WalMart? Wow…that's about the most offensive thing I've heard in ages. What genius thought this up? It's freaking WAL-MART you morons…if you want to expose these kids to “culture” let them go France, Japan or Brazil as exchange students like middle class suburban kids get to do. This is a free training program for WalMart, nothing more. I'm sure the parents are thrilled that their kids are considered worthy of nothing better by the Detroit school system. No doubt this gem will show up in WalMart's 2010 sustainability report under “community” or listed as some other such crock of horse manure.

  • heybaby

    I am strongly against this. As a teenager in the suburbs of Detroit and a strong advocate for the improvement of education in the Detroit public Schools, this is truly dissapointing. These kids should be in school and learning.. not bagging groceries. Wal-Mart and the public schools are giving these students the option to settle. Settling is not good enough if these kids want to get out of the inner-cities. This is absolutely ridicualous and is sending a wrong message to those kids. By giving them this program, Society is basically telling these kids that they will never be anything more than a Wal-Mart employee for the rest of their lives.

  • heybaby

    I am strongly against this. As a teenager in the suburbs of Detroit and a strong advocate for the improvement of education in the Detroit public Schools, this is truly dissapointing. These kids should be in school and learning.. not bagging groceries. Wal-Mart and the public schools are giving these students the option to settle. Settling is not good enough if these kids want to get out of the inner-cities. This is absolutely ridicualous and is sending a wrong message to those kids. By giving them this program, Society is basically telling these kids that they will never be anything more than a Wal-Mart employee for the rest of their lives.

  • Pingback: Detroit Public Schools Partner with Walmart « PigeonPropaganda

  • Karin

    Excuse me, but you do have to have a brain to work at Walmart, despite what some people might think. There are many departments, and training is very necessary to be able to do your job efficiently. It may not be the ideal job, but many employees go on to become managers. As a part-time associate at Walmart, I have to say that while I don’t plan to work there forever, it is a job that helps pay the bills, and I am treated very fairly. I think any attainable goal for inner city kids that is positive and teaches personal responsibility is a great thing. Walmart does it’s best to help out those in need.