The home improvement retailer is launching a new workforce development program it calls "Track to the Trades." It will roll out March 1 in Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver; Pittsburgh and Richmond, Virginia.
The platform will offer employees financial assistance to pursue certification for a specific trade skill, such as carpentry, heating and air conditioning, electrical, plumbing and appliance repair. Eligible employees will receive up to $2,500 to complete their education via a partnership with Guild Education.
"The trade profession is a high-demand, high-opportunity field for the next generation workforce, and today, there is a massive unmet need," said Jennifer Weber, Lowe's chief human resources officer.
Lowe's has forecast the U.S. will endure a skills gap of more than a half million construction-related jobs by 2026. It hopes its initiative and other sweetened benefits will entice workers to join the company and stick around.
The program follows Lowe's plan to give hourly employees a one-time bonus of up to $1,000 due to new tax legislation. The company is also expanding its benefits packages for full-time workers to include longer paid parental leave, adoption assistance and faster eligibility for health benefits.
Through Track to Trades, Lowe's will cover employees' tuition for trade skill certification, offer additional academic coaching and mentoring, and then will give those people who complete the program placement opportunities for full-time positions at Lowe's.
"We are providing unique career alternatives for our associates while also building a pipeline for the next generation of skilled trade workers, allowing us to better meet the demands of customers while creating long-term educational benefits and economic opportunity for our people," Weber said.
Following the four-city pilot of "Track to Trades," Lowe's will expand the opportunity to qualified part- and full-time employees nationwide by the end of the year.
According to the Home Improvement Research Institute, skilled workers are particularly scarce in the construction industry today. The trade group has also found that businesses like Lowe's are constantly looking to expand their workforces, but professional contractors face "ongoing hiring challenges."
Just recently, Lowe's and Home Depot unveiled plans to hire more than 130,000 people combined for temporary work during the busy spring season. Home Depot launched a tool that allows job applicants to schedule their own in-person interviews, while Lowe's held its first marathon hiring event Wednesday.
A recent survey by Korn Ferry of 20 major U.S. retailers that employ more than 1 million people found that those companies believe hiring will only grow more difficult and costly. Forty percent of those retailers anticipate paying higher hourly wages to retain talent, according to the consulting group.