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Kroger sweetens employee benefits as it moves to ramp up hiring

  • Kroger is introducing a program to support continuing education for all part-time and full-time associates following six months of employment.
  • It is also increasing the company match for its 401(k) program to 5 percent, up from 4 percent previously.
  • It is investing $5 million more into a program that aids associates during times of hardship.

Kroger announced Monday new investments in employee benefits, education and wages as retailers across the board are spending more on their employees to keep pace in a tighter labor market.

Last week, Kroger said it planned to hire for 11,000 new positions, including 2,000 management roles. At that time, it said would invest $500 million in associate wages and training and development over the next three years.

The grocer has attributed the investments to more funds as result of recent tax law changes.

Among the new initiatives, Kroger is introducing a Feed Your Future program to support continuing education for all part-time and full-time associates following six months of employment. As part of the program, Kroger will offer up to $3,500 annually ($21,000 over the course of employment) to support educational advancements like high school equivalency exams, professional certifications and advanced degrees.

The grocer is offering employees the opportunity to take leaves from work for these educational pursuits while maintaining their role and seniority.

"What we found through our research is people are incredibly interested in education and fearful of debt," CEO Rodney McMullen told CNBC's Sara Eisen on "Power Lunch."

"And the other part is we thought [that] it is important to support that ... in terms that it will help you get your GED, English as a second language [classes], or a college degree or MBA or whatever works for you."

It is also increasing the company match for its 401(k) program to 5 percent, up from 4 percent previously. It is expanding its employee discount program for associate shopping in its stores. It is investing $5 million more into its Helping Hands program, an internal fund to aid associates during hardship.

Kroger and its units employ nearly a half million associates.

There has been a recent wave of retailer initiatives to invest more in employees to contend with a tightening labor market and to prepare for anticipated minimum wage hikes. The federally mandated minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but some states have been pushing for hikes as much as $15 an hour.

Walmart and CVS Health have announced raising their hourly minimum wage to $11. Target in March said it plans to go $12 an hour over the next few months.