Home Depot's strategy for hiring 80,000 new workers: help them with paying for school

Workers walk through the garden center at a Home Depot store
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On Tuesday, The Home Depot announced plans to hire 80,000 people for their busy spring season. And they're offering to pay some of workers' school expenses, to encourage them to take the jobs.

"Spring is like our holiday rush," Caitlin Harvey, manager of corporate communications at The Home Depot tells CNBC Make It in a statement.

The behemoth home improvement retailer, which currently employs over 400,000 associates across some 2,284 stores in North America, is hiring for a range of positions including in their garden center and distribution centers, as well as overnight freight, merchandising and other customer service roles across store departments.

In order to recruit such a large volume of workers, Home Depot is highlighting its tuition assistance program, which has reimbursed employees some $136 million over the past 15 years, the company says. The program provides part-time hourly employees $1,500 for educational expenses on their first day, $3,000 to full-time hourly employees and $5,000 for salaried employees.

In a tight labor market, The Home Depot uses benefits like this to attract new employees, Harvey says. "For young people facing rising tuition costs, educational benefits are a big draw," she says, which is why the company offers tuition reimbursement, along with educational coaches and an internship program.

This emphasis on education benefits has become an increasingly common recruiting technique for many of the country's largest employers.

Household appliances are offered for sale at Home Depot in Chicago, Illinois.
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Walmart, the world's largest employer, announced in 2018 that it would offer subsidized higher education for all 1.4 million of its U.S. employees, including full-time, part-time and salaried Walmart and Sam's Club workers. Through the program, Walmart employees can pay $1 per day ($365 per year) to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in business or supply chain management from the University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University.

In a 2018 annual letter to shareholders, Amazon announced that it will pay for 95% of tuition, fees and textbooks — up to $12,000 over four years — for hourly associates with one year of tenure to earn "certificates and associate degrees in high-demand occupations such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies and nursing."

That same year, McDonald's announced a revamp of its college assistance program for roughly 400,000 employees to provide eligible restaurant employees with $2,500 per year and managers with $3,000 per year for education costs.

Chipotle announced in 2019 that it would offer employees the opportunity to earn a degree in 75 different business and technology fields, debt-free. Chipotle's initiative covers 100% of tuition costs upfront for eligible employees to earn associate's and bachelor's degrees in fields ranging from cybersecurity to supply chain logistics at the University of Arizona, Bellevue University, Brandman University, Southern New Hampshire University and Wilmington University.

Employees prepare orders for customers at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in Hollywood, California.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, says that while traditional benefits are more likely to impact workers on an everyday basis, he has seen an increase in the number of companies offering these kinds of education benefits in recent years.

"According to Glassdoor data, the benefits workers care most about are bread-and-butter benefits; that's health insurance, paid time off, retirement plans. Those are really where workers get the most value and where they want most of their benefits compensation coming from," Zhao tells CNBC Make It.

That said, he has heard of more companies advertising education-related benefits. He says that the current tight labor market, in which the unemployment rate is just 3.6%, is a major cause of the trend.

"It is consistent with the state of the labor market right now," says Zhao. "These new benefits show that employers are feeling the pressure of a tight labor market and are expanding benefits and experimenting with new ways to attract workers."

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