Lowe’s joins in on debt-free college trend

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Dive Brief:

  • Lowe’s has expanded its higher education program, now offering 300,000 full-time and part-time employees a chance to pursue college degrees, certificates and high school diplomas for free. The roster of universities covered under Lowe’s Guild Learning Marketplace includes Hispanic-serving institutions (University of Arizona) and historically Black colleges and universities (Morehouse College, Paul Quinn College and North Carolina A&T State University). 
  • Together, these 23 academic institutions offer more than 50 programs under Lowe’s benefits plan. For accessibility, the collection of programs have multiple start dates, with both virtual and in-person attendance options. Lowe’s will cover the textbook and course fees for employees participating in the program.
  • Guild is an organization that facilitates education assistance programs for corporate companies. Lowe’s workers will receive one-on-one coaching via Guild staff during the pursuit of their degrees.

Dive Insight:

A few weeks before the Guild announcement, Lowe’s committed $9 million towards education of historically marginalized students to provide pathways to employment at Lowe’s. The construction vendor allocated the funds to the Charlotte Talent Initiative at Queens University’s business school, as well as STEM, law and humanities programs at North Carolina Central University’s business school. Also awarded were Sampson Community College to support its construction and home improvement programs, specifically the Sampson Trades Center; and a residential complex housing students of Paul Quinn College’s Corporate Work Program. 

Noteworthy here is Paul Quinn President Michael J. Sorrel’s perspective on this particular aspect of the construction vendor’s talent pipeline plan: Lowe’s “out-of-the-box thinking and innovative approach to this partnership” makes them an “invaluable resource in fighting intergenerational poverty.” 

What human resources pros can learn from this multi-pronged effort is that worker education isn’t just a creative way to give back to local communities. It can be an actionable way to develop and retain talent — a talisman against the Great Resignation — and to fight for the “equity” in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Lowe’s Executive Vice President of Human Resources Janice Dupré told the Charlotte Observer that more than 50% of store leaders started their talent life cycle as hourly workers for Lowe’s. Overall, 70% of employees are promoted from within, she said. Lowe’s partnership with Guild specifically equips employees with the skill sets needed to take on more responsibility at Lowe’s. The initiative’s programs center cybersecurity, data analytics and supply chain strategy. 

Many major companies have made similar investments in the longevity of their talent life cycle. Amazon announced in March 2022 that it would offer its 750,000 workers expanded education access, including ESL classes, GED programs, and reimbursed degrees at 140 national and local academic institutions. And in April 2022, Chick-fil-A announced a $24 million workforce investment, empowering its more than 12,000 employees to apply Chick-fil-A scholarships to any degree program at any accredited university. 

Also partnering with Guild, in 2019, Chipotle rolled out its debt-free tuition program, building on its existing tuition reimbursement program, which paid workers up to $5,250 per year for participating in qualifying programs. 

Employers who appeal to workers’ desire for self-actualization may have the advantage. “With the persistent war for talent, it’s more critical than ever to invest in employees,” Guild CEO Rachel Carlson said in a press release. “By offering debt-free education and upskilling, Lowe’s is expanding their long-term strategic commitment to providing career pathways, skills and support that every worker needs to open doors to their dreams.”

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