Wal-Mart’s charitable foundation will make a $3 million donation to finance job readiness and workforce training programs in the District, part of an effort to address above-average unemployment and improve the retailer’s image as it angles to open its first D.C. stores.
Over a three-year period, the money will pay for training at the city’s new Community College of D.C., part of the University of the District of Columbia, and a literacy grant program to be administered by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is expected to announce the partnership in a Thursday press conference.
The money will pay for workforce development and job preparation for 2,000 city residents at a time when the District’s unemployment rate is on the rise, up 0.6 percent to 10.4 percent in June.
Lisa Mallory, director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, said the funding is sorely needed to help prepare residents to work, “not just for Wal-Mart but for every retail employer.”
The donation will also further a campaign by the chain to use charitable dollars to continue to burnish its image. In November, Wal-Mart announced plans to open its first four stores in the District and hire 1,200 people by 2012.
That timeline appears out of reach, as Wal-Mart has not signed leases for any of the stores, but the plans remain intact despite public requests for the company to make concessions to workers, a “flash mob” protest at the chain’s Laurel store and multiple rallies at the chain’s Washington offices.
In the meantime, Wal-Mart and its foundation have poured millions of dollars into programs and charities that are close to the hearts of Gray and D.C. residents, including $2.4 million in contributions for its fiscal year ending Jan. 31 to groups such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Capital Area Food Bank and the Greater Washington Urban League. Wal-Mart announced $665,000 in grants for the mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program and school nutrition in June, and another $100,000 grant to help reduce pollution in the Anacostia River last week.
Gray helped create the new community college, which will use the Wal-Mart money to provide customer service training and a “retail academy” to prepare residents for entry-level retail jobs.
In an interview, Michelle D. Gilliard, a senior director at the Wal-Mart Foundation, said that workforce development was one of the foundation’s four target giving areas. She said the company was committed to hiring city residents.
“All companies need to develop professional, well-prepared customer service employees, and we see this as a part of that,” she said.
Mallory stressed that the training partnership with Wal-Mart would benefit city residents regardless of how many stores the company opened.
“The Wal-Mart Foundation has stepped up to do this, but we’re willing to work with anybody,” she said.