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What will Walmart gain from its ‘returnship’ program?

Walmart is helping a specific segment of the tech labor market get its skills up to speed.

The retailer announced that it would be expanding what it has dubbed its “returnship” program, according to Bloomberg. The four-month paid program helps those with five years of tech experience who have taken a break from the workforce to return to being job ready and pursue employment. The cohort tends to include women returning to work after caring for a child, as well as people who took time off to care for elderly parents or manage other personal situations.

Walmart developed the program in conjunction with Path Forward, which has worked with Apple and others. The retailer is now increasing the number of slots in the program threefold to accommodate a potential 100 participants. It is also expanding the program beyond its Walmart Labs location in California to other offices in that state, as well as in Arkansas and Virginia. Walmart hired about three quarters of the last round of participants in the program.

The program appears to bridge a gap for a population that still has plenty of willingness, desire and need to work in their field but has fallen behind on skills in an area where things change quickly.

Walmart has worked to become a leader in retail technology in recent years, trying to shake its image as a stolid suburban big box. In 2017, Walmart launched its Store No. 8 retail tech incubator, which has been the source of numerous customer-facing innovations. More recently the chain opened its Intelligent Retail Lab, a location used for testing AI and observing how customers interact with the technology in-store.

The recruitment and cultivation of staff from untapped or underexplored segments of the labor market is a trend that is seeing growth in retail where it is more difficult for businesses to retain employees. McDonald’s, for instance, recently launched a partnership with the AARP to help bring in older employees.

A new Labor Department study placed the unemployment numbers at 3.6 percent, the lowest rate of unemployment since 1969, according to CNBC.

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