Walmart’s First Class of Homegrown Truck Drivers Graduates

Former In-Store, Warehouse Employees Hit the Road After Completing CDL Training
Ashley Milacek, Walmart CDL graduate
Ashley Milacek, 35, says her new job driving 18-wheelers will almost double her Walmart Supercenter salary. (Walmart)

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In the midst of a truck driver shortage last year, Walmart decided its own ranks of 1.6 million employees might want to learn how to drive a big rig for Walmart.

Walmart dangled first-year truck driver salaries of up to $110,000 and a 12-week training program for its Walmart and Sam’s Club store and warehouse workers. The first class with former retail employees graduated July 28 from a training center in Walmart’s Sanger distribution center in Denton County, Texas.

One of them is Ashley Milacek, 35, who says her new job driving 18-wheelers will almost double her Walmart Supercenter salary.

“I was sitting at my computer when I saw the offer and I just had to jump on it,” said Milacek. “I’m the first in my family to go down the trucker path. I never thought about being in this seat, but I wanted to put myself up to the challenge.”

Milacek has worked in the Gainesville Walmart since 2014, first in an overnight job and later in online grocery and pickup. She was a general merchandise manager when she decided to apply to be a “Walmart Private Fleet Driver.”

More than 70 Walmart employees are graduating this week from seven training centers set up across the U.S.

Milacek is one of nine Walmart employees who completed the program July 28 in Sanger, the retailer’s only truck driver training center in Texas.

So far the program has produced 190 new drivers for Walmart, which employs 13,500 truck drivers. Graduates earn their commercial driver licenses. Walmart puts its students up in a hotel and transports them back and forth to the training center while they continue to be paid.

Women made up 8.1% of the trucking industry’s 3.54 million professional drivers last year, according to American Trucking Associations. That’s an all-time high and the seventh straight annual increase.

The industry group says there’s still a truck driver shortage of nearly 78,000 drivers even though the worst of the pandemic and supply chain issues are history. Some say the industry has a high turnover rate that contributes to shortages. The driver shortages are worse in the longer-haul, for-hire truckload market and made worse by drivers who can’t pass a drug test, according to the association, which estimated that the shortage could surpass 160,000 in 2031.

Walmart has regional delivery territories that allow it to promise drivers that they will have consecutive days off and be home every week.

A Walmart truck on a Dallas expressway

A Walmart truck on a Dallas expressway. (Lynda M. Gonzalez/Dallas Morning News via Tribune Content Agency

Fritz Keel, the director of fleet development at Walmart who led the program’s curriculum design, said instead of cap and gowns these graduates will wear the official Walmart driver uniforms: a blue-and-white Walmart trucker hat and white shirts with the Walmart private fleet patch, and patches for their names, transportation region and the American flag.

Milacek’s mother especially was worried about safety issues, but the more she learned, Milacek said she shared the information with her family in Anadarko, Okla., and “they’re super excited now.”

She also has been hearing from curious former co-workers. “I tell them it’s a great opportunity and a phenomenal program,” she said.

Walmart Inc. ranks No. 2 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in North America.

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