Help Wanted: Walmart hiring 4.3 million

Yes, you read that correctly. Walmart will need to hire an estimated 4.3 million people over the course of the next five years to keep pace with anticipated growth and turnover. No wonder the company is such a big supporter of an organization known as Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), which held its Global Partner Summit in Rogers, Ark. earlier this week.

The late Jack Shewmaker lent his considerable support to SIFE for many years as one of Walmart’s top executives and that trend continues today with Walmart International president and CEO Doug McMillon serving as chairman of the SIFE Worldwide board of directors and Sam’s Club president and CEO Brian Cornell serving as chairman of the SIFE USA national advisory board. Both attended and spoke at the Partner Summit. Also appearing on the program were Sharon Orlopp, Walmart’s global chief diversity officer and SVP corporate people and John Boswell, Sam’s Club’s SVP marketing, member insights and e-commerce.

It was Orlopp who mentioned that Walmart, which already employs some 2.1 million people, would need to hire 4.3 million more to satisfy growth and fill empty position when people leave. In addition, Orlopp said Walmart will need to hire 91,000 managers and 400 vice presidents.

Many of those are likely to come from the ranks of the roughly 57,000 students worldwide who participate in SIFE chapters at 1,600 universities. These students tend to be articulate, motivated and among those least likely to participate in an “Occupy” event given their pro-business leanings. Their belief in SIFE’s mission of creating a better and more sustainable world through the positive power of business was readily apparent among those attending the Partner Summit where they referred to their infectious passion as being “SIFEd.”

It’s why, as Orlopp noted, Walmart spends a lot of time in its recruiting efforts changing perceptions of the retail industry and employing some unconventional strategies. For example, she said most students would be unaware that the average Walmart or Sam’s Club store manager earns more annually than the average doctor or lawyer. So when Walmart shows up on campus it goes in with a plan to identify top candidates, quickly educate them about the potential in retail and when appropriate bring them to Bentonville for a whirlwind indoctrination. The goal is to provide what Orlopp called a “unique candidate experience” that provides exposure to the company’s culture, different areas of the business and senior leadership. Offers are then extended within 72 hours and Orlopp said the process results in a 90% acceptance rate.

Other novel approaches to campus recruiting involved sending applicants a Web cam so that a video interview can be conducted as opposed to flying prospects to Bentonville. Orlopp said the approach has saved millions. On other occasions she said the company will bring soundproof booths to campus hiring events.

It is all part of a strategy to attract the best and brightest to a company where some college students may harbor preconceived notions of the retail industry in general and Walmart in particular. And faced with such staggering demands as outlined by Orlopp, it’s no wonder that Walmart is a big supporter of SIFE and such top executives as McMillon and Cornell are continuing in the tradition of Shewmaker by lending their leadership and commitment to the cause.

In closing comments at summit, Cornell asked the gathering of roughly 300 senior CPG executives and SIFE students from throughout the country to embrace the concept of “ambassadorship,” because the organization is at an important inflection point.

SIFE will undergo a rebranding in 2012 and is looking for more students, faculty, CPG executives and companies to get SIFEd, which is why it is more important than ever for participating company’s to show their support and not just financially.

“This is about the way you can elevate your involvement and support for the organizations in ways you haven’t in the past,” Cornell said. “I believe the best for SIFE is yet to come and I would ask all of you to step up your support over the next 12 months so that this organization can achieve its full potential.”

According to SIFE USA president Donna Patterson, one of the organization’s top goals is to increase the number of teams competing and extend to industry segments beyond retail and consumer packaged goods.

“When we are able to get students or teams to participate in competitions, that is when they get SIFEd,” Patterson said.