The centerpiece of Wal-Mart's plan is a pledge to hire veterans, many of whom have had a particularly difficult time finding work after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq. The unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan stood at 10.8 percent in December, compared with the overall unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.
Wal-Mart said it plans to hire every veteran who wants a job and has been honorably discharged in the first 12 months off active duty. The program, which will start on Memorial Day, will include jobs mostly in Wal-Mart's stores or in its Sam's Club locations. Some will be at its headquarters, based in Bentonville, Ark. or the company's distribution centers.
Dave Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said Wal-Mart hasn't worked out the details but it will "match up the veterans' experience and qualifications." CEO Simon, who served in the Navy, said that veterans have "a record of performance under pressure," and "They're quick learners."
"I think that Wal-Mart has a tremendous opportunity to leverage operational skills that today's veterans bring," said Sean Collins, director of G.I. Jobs, a magazine and web site that highlight employment, education and small business opportunities for veterans.
Wal-Mart said First Lady Michelle Obama, who spearheaded a White House drive to encourage businesses to hire veterans, has expressed interest in working with Wal-Mart and with the rest of the business community on this initiative.
In the next several weeks, Simon said the White House will meet with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and major U.S. employers to encourage businesses to make commitments to train and employ American's returning veterans. The first lady on Tuesday called Wal-Mart's announcement "historic."
"We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home," she said in a statement. "Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow."