“Most graduations have something in common: They inspire hope for new opportunity,” said Chris Nicholas, executive vice president and COO of Walmart USA.
New career opportunities are exactly what Walmart’s Associate-to-Driver training program provide. Until recently, the retail giant’s private driving school was open only to members of the company’s supply chain and transportation departments.
Inspired by the overall success of Walmart’s driver training program, along with a need for more drivers, company officials have opened the training to any associate employed by Walmart or Sam’s Club who lives within 250 miles of one of seven Walmart Transportation Offices across the U.S.
As of this writing, nearly 200 employees have successfully completed the Associate-to-Driver program, according to Nicholas. Many of these new drivers have moved from hourly roles into driving positions that offer far greater wages.
“Now as proud holders of a Class A CDLs, they’re on their way to making as much as $110,000 in their first year as Walmart drivers,” he said.
Ashley Milacek is among the newest of Wal Mart’s 13,500 truck drivers. A working alumnus of two Walmart stores in the Gainesville, Texas, area, Milacek has already experienced the endgame of Walmart’s private trucking fleet — consumers buying products truck drivers deliver to the retail outlets.
Since joining the Walmart team in 2014, Milacek has worked in five different roles, from overnight stocking to the front, and eventually as general manager of a Walmart store. Now, however, she is experiencing an entirely new side of Walmart’s supply chain as a regional truck driver.
“I heard about the Associate-To-Driver program,” she said. “I wanted to try something completely different and decided to give it a try.”
Milacek is among 72 recent graduates of the Associate-to-Driver program.
“I came into this job having never stepped behind the wheel of a truck before. I didn’t know what to expect, but I came in hungry and ready to learn,” she said. “Walmart’s team of facilitators and certified driver trainers fed me all the information I needed, and even tailored the training to my individual learning style. It helped me to be the best driver I could be during my three months of training.”
Milacek also rose to the challenges of being a woman in a career field traditionally dominated by men.
“I didn’t realize what kind of impact being a female driver would have until I started driving for Walmart,” she said. “Making this career jump has made me want to represent other females who aspire to do this job.”
Milacek admits she entered the program with some worries about her safety on the road, and says she believes other women also have this concern. However, she says, Walmart’s training program, along with the company’s equipment and fleet policies, set her mind at rest.
“Walmart really engages us and has many safety measures in place, like top-of-the-line equipment and access to any well-lit Walmart parking lot when breaks are needed,” she said. “They also prioritize our safety and urge us to avoid driving in unsafe road conditions during storms. Systems like NTransit give drivers better directions to execute their trips successfully and safely. Measures like this make all drivers — not just women — feel more comfortable on the road.”
While working as a truck driver offers its challenges, Milacek says the transition from store to the highway has been smooth, at least for her.
“The schedule has been easier than I thought it would be to adjust to,” she said. “I thought early mornings on the road would be tough, but it can be amazing. I get to see the sun rise, and I really enjoy being out on the open road.”
Walmart’s fleet combined fleet drives more than 900 million miles each year. That’s a lot of sunrises to be seen.
As for her future as a driver and in her career with Walmart, Milacek said she looks forward to continuing to service customers for years to come.
“This career has already been incredibly rewarding,” she said. “It’s really a phenomenal feeling.”
And the rewards keep building.
“The first time I ever sat in the driver’s seat, wearing my Walmart driver uniform, I was able to feel how big the responsibility of this job truly was,” she said. “Having the honor to deliver items at an incredible value to communities across the country is what I will continue to look forward to for years to come.”
Milacek has a simple word of advice for anyone, particularly women, considering a career as a truck driver.
“Do it. You won’t regret it,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to take the jump if it’s something you’ve been thinking about. It is making a huge difference for me and my family.”
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.