Walmart today opened its first employee training academy in Los Angeles County at its Santa Clarita store located on Carl Boyer Dr. The retailer held a celebratory event where the program’s inaugural graduating class of 66 associates walked the stage in caps and gowns. Academies are a dedicated facility located in, or adjacent to, a Walmart Supercenter where hourly supervisors and department managers receive two weeks of hands-on training that combines both the classroom and the sales floor. Walmart plans to build approximately 200 academies in the U.S. by the end of 2017. Each academy will train associates from approximately 25 nearby stores. “Our training academies help provide associates with the skills they need to succeed and advance, while creating a better and more consistent customer experience,” said Chad Donath, Walmart regional general manager in a statement. “Skills training increases productivity, confidence and knowledge, which leads to greater job satisfaction, personal and professional growth, and reinforces why working at Walmart is a smart career choice.” Walmart has created a training program called Pathways for associates at all levels of store operations, from entry-level to regional general manager. Hourly frontline supervisors and department managers will attend a dedicated two-week training program at the academy facility as part of Pathways. The first week is dedicated to retail fundamentals and gaining core retail skills. The second week is dedicated to training on the sales floor to gain the knowledge and skills to run the specific department where the associate works. Areas of study include leadership, merchandising, operations, technology and customer service, in addition to the department-specific training. Benefits include making training more accessible to more associates and taking associates out of their home store so they can focus solely on training for two weeks while still utilizing a real-life Walmart sales floor as a training environment. Walmart anticipates training more than 225,000 employees this year Each academy will have its own team of dedicated associates with retail operations experience to lead the training. All academy stores go through a auditing process to make sure they are able to deliver the teaching, training and development that associates should receive at the academy.