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How Wal-Mart can secure the American Dream for millennials

February 25, 2015, 9:32 PM UTC
Wal-Mart Opens Its First Chicago Store
CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 21: Wal-Mart employee Anna Hines walks through the parking lot of the soon-to-opened Wal-Mart September 21, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. The controversial new Wal-Mart, Chicago's first, is set to open September 27, 2006 in the wake of a defeated Chicago wage law that would have set minimum "living wage" requirements for big box stores. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
Photograph by Tim Boyle — Getty Images

Wal-Mart has been getting good press recently for its decision to raise its associates’ wages to a minimum of $9 per hour. And it should. So should the unions and community groups that have been pressuring the U.S. retailer to do just that. They also deserve some of the credit for exposing Wal-Mart’s low wages, reliance of associates on food stamps and other public assistance, anti-union tactics, and bottom of the industry ratings on customer service and employee satisfaction.

But all those who had a hand in generating this action should see it as only the first step in what will need to be a long and multi-faceted strategy if Wal-Mart and its protagonists, and most of all its associates, are to one day wake up to find it transformed into a truly great place to work.

We should expect no less from America’s largest employer.

So let me offer a challenge and opportunity to all Wal-Mart (WMT) executives, associates, and anyone else who shares the aspirations of turning Wal-Mart into a truly great company that provides great jobs: Join me in learning how other companies do this and use this knowledge to help Wal-Mart associates realize their version of the American Dream.

Here’s how: As co-chair of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research, I am launching an online course on March 23 called “MOOC” or “Securing the American Dream for the Next Generation.” Like all MITx and edX courses, it is free and open to the public (learn more here).

My MBA students will help teach the course, which will encourage discussions on how to build great companies with great jobs in retail and in other industries. It will also provide opportunities to hear what young people around the country and, indeed around the globe, expect of their employers and want out of their jobs and careers. We will provide tools for measuring where Wal-Mart and other companies stand against the leading companies in their industry and we will end with a call to action for all stakeholders—employees and their representatives, business leaders, government officials, and educators—to work together to shape the future employment relationships in ways that work for all.

We will draw directly on what our MIT MBA class sees as the lessons from Boston’s Market Basket saga that unfolded last summer. Our MBAs are studying that case now and will discuss with our online participants as the course unfolds. Wal-Mart can get free consulting advice from these bright young MBAs!

So, here’s an open invitation to all the Wal-Mart stakeholders, Wal-Mart Watchers, and indeed to everyone who cares about these issues and wants to keep the progress coming at the retailer and every other company in the nation. Join the discussion and help us all learn how to grow the number of great companies with great jobs in America!

Thomas A. Kochan is a professor of industrial relations, work, and employment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. He is author of the book, Restoring the American Dream: A Working Families’ Agenda for America.