Former Walmart Truck Driver Starts Associate-to-Driver Program Nationwide
After 18 years of driving a truck for Walmart, Scotty Wells has stopped working and taken over as manager.
Knowing that he was a national truck driving champion at Walmart, company officials felt he was the perfect person to teach the trade.
In October 2022, the East Tennessee native moved to Seymour to manage Region 5 and prep at the Regional Training Center. Onboarding is a week-long assessment process to become a Walmart Truck Driver.
Wells and his boss Fritz Kiel then began fleet development and designed a driver assistance program.
“We said, ‘Well, why can’t we take the driver shortage out of the industry?’” Wells said. “That’s what we’ve been fighting for the last two or three years, where there weren’t a lot of people coming into the truck driving industry. It is very difficult to get in, so there is a shortage of drivers. “For the new generation, it is not an attractive job to spend time driving a truck all week.”
The idea is to give associates an opportunity to step out of their role in a distribution center, transportation, Walmart or Sam’s Club store and become a Walmart Truck Driver.
“It’s the most desirable truck driving location in America,” Wells said. “Being a driver at Walmart is where you have to be the best of the best, that’s what we call them, so it’s very difficult. When I hired you 18 years ago, they said your odds of getting into Walmart were less than your odds of getting into Harvard.” This is how hard it is to be a Walmart truck driver.
Wells said he demonstrated concepts in Dallas, Texas, and Dover, Delaware, and after seeing that work, the Associate-to-Driver was rolled out to the rest of the company’s fleet. There are now seven facilities across the country, including Seymour, that offer the program.
For the first group for Region 5, which covers from Coldwater, Michigan, to Midway, Tennessee, 900 colleagues applied. Only 11 people were selected for the program, and nine of them completed the 12-week program.
Partners within a 50-mile radius of a participating transportation office are eligible for the program. By the beginning of 2024, this will change to a 250-mile radius to make it available to more associates across the country who want to become Walmart drivers.
In the program, participants learn leadership from the best of the best, guiding them to handle all parts of the job with an emphasis on the values of safety, courtesy and pride, according to Walmart.com.
For several years in a row, Wells said Walmart has been named the safest fleet in America by the American Trucking Associations.
“We’re the safest private fleet in America. We take pride in that, so it takes the best of the best to become a Walmart driver,” he said. “It’s not just about handing you a set of keys and telling you to go drive a truck. It doesn’t work that way here. If they are willing to learn and learn the trade to become a truck driver, I can teach them the correct professional Walmart way to do it.
After they complete the course and obtain their commercial driver’s license, they become private drivers at Walmart.
“In our experience now, these drivers are better and safer drivers,” Wells said. “The numbers are astronomically different from the guy we hired a year ago to the guy who was working on his own from co-driver. The numbers are absolutely astonishing in terms of how good these drivers are because they’ve been trained by the best.
Perhaps the biggest win for colleagues? It does not cost them anything to enter the program. They are paid associates at Walmart during training.
“The opportunity is there because it costs you $6,000 to $8,000 to go to a truck driving school just to get your license. They don’t actually do any training with you,” Wells said. “Here, you receive training from the best drivers in the world to become a professional driver.” At Walmart, we pay them while they’re here, we feed them, everything is paid for. “It’s an amazing opportunity.”
In the end, they will also earn more money.
“This will change their careers,” Wells said. “They go from the warehouse and get paid $50,000, $60,000, $65,000 a year, and they go home every night to a first-year Walmart driver who is now being advertised at $110,000 a year, so they can almost double their salary.” .
As of July, 191 participants have completed the program. Overall, Walmart has 14,000 drivers, and Wells said the goal by February 2024 is to have 15,000 drivers. They hope the Associate-to-Driver program will help with that.
Ed Lyons of Kokomo was among the nine from District 5 who graduated with Seymour’s first class.
He said he was a temporary employee at Walmart in 2014, became a cashier the following year and worked his way through the ranks to a coaching position. He worked at stores in Wabash, Rochester and Kokomo.
“I always wanted to be a coach, so that was always the goal,” Lyons said. “Then I found out about the driver assistant program about a year ago. I’ve always wanted to be a truck driver because my father and grandfather were truck drivers, so I wanted to continue the family legacy.”
Once he was accepted into the program, he said he began studying the CDL learner permit book, and each participant had to obtain their permit to proceed. Three weeks are then spent learning the basic knowledge of tractor and trailer driving – pre-trip, backing turns, straight-line backing, parallel parking, and parallel backing – so they can earn their CDL.
Lyons said he was lucky to pass the CDL test on his first try. Participants then continued to hone their skills, took longer road trips, and drove more freely before going through a support course at Walmart.
“Walmart has their own introductory journey that’s a little more in-depth than what the state wants, so we learned all that, too, before we could even graduate,” he said.
Last week, they had to do three different types of driving: city road, country road, and highway.
The graduation ceremony was held on July 28. Lyons said it was nice to dress up as a Walmart truck driver for the first time, receive a diploma and have family and friends in attendance.
“All in all, it’s a very honorable thing to be able to do,” he said. “It really hit me emotionally because my grandfather and my father are no longer here, so it was just a very emotional moment for me to be able to get up on stage and get my certificate that I’m now a Walmart fleet driver. There was a lot of pride there.”
Upon returning to the distribution center at his home in Gas City, Lyons said he was set up with a certified driving instructor, who accompanied him to check he was doing everything safely and correctly. He had to stay with CDT for six to eight weeks and have at least 12,000 miles on him to be able to drive on his own.
On his first day alone, Lyons said his transit manager asked about transporting a load of groceries to his last Walmart store in Kokomo, docking it there and letting his co-workers look at the truck and see what he was doing now.
“It would mean a lot to me to be able to go back to where I came from and show them: ‘Hey, look at me now.’ And look what I can do now in this short period of time,” he said.
The second group is currently going through the Associate-to-Driver program. In District 5, he had more than 600 fellows apply, and 23 were selected, Wells said. They will graduate on November 3.
The third group will start on November 6. Registration has recently opened, and Wales already has more than 1,300 applicants from Region 5.
The plan is to have four groups annually at each of the seven training facilities, he said.
“Across the fleet, that will average out to 500 drivers in our fleet each year with a driver assistant,” Wells said.
While the transition from driving all those years to driver training has been an adjustment for Wells, he loves what he does now.
It was fun. It already happened. It’s been a blessing. “It was a really good trip.” “I love this company. The things and opportunities they provide to their partners are unparalleled. They are a great company. They really are.”
Thank the truck driver
National Truck Driver Appreciation Week 2023 is September 10-16.
The American Trucking Associations annually celebrate this day, an important time for America to thank all professional truck drivers for their hard work and commitment in doing one of the most important and demanding jobs in our economy, according to ntdaw.trucking.org.
This week-long celebration honors professional truck drivers who deliver America’s goods safely and securely every day. These 3.49 million professional men and women not only deliver our goods safely, securely and on time, but they also keep our highways safe.