Detroit’s Schools Offer New Class: Working at Walmart

“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.”

Audrey is a freelance copywriter. She has worked with every kind of company, helping them to communicate their message of sustainability. Careful to never greenwash, Audrey believes that transparency in marketing is just as important as branding. And that doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive. When she's not blogging, marketing sustainability or writing radio commercials for Chinese food, you can find Audrey rock-climbing, riding her bike around San Francisco, or looking for work (she's available for hire, call now!)