Walmart Is Changing Its Labor Model: How Many Workers Will Lose Their Jobs?

Walmart is quite significantly changing its labor model. Moving from a near hire any live body and let them get on with it one to something where people are well trained, well paid and presumably of rather higher productivity.

This is what many have been crying out for the company to do for years of course: move to something closer to the Costco model than the one that Walmart has traditionally pursued.

However, as some like me have been pointing out all along there is a flip side to that change in models. Which is that the end aim is of course to employ fewer of those more productive people at those higher wages.

The point being that if one can raise productivity levels by more than the increase in cost then of course profits will rise: that being the end goal for all shareholder owned companies.

The interesting question is going to be how many people either lose or don’t get jobs as a result of this strategic change: and I’ll suggest a method by which we can calculate this a little later.

There’s two prongs to Walmart’s new approach. The first is to take a leaf from Henry Ford’s book with that $5 a day thing: 沃尔玛的新方案包括两部分。第一部分是照着亨利·福特的“每天五美元”画葫芦： One motive is better public relations at a time when inequality is a hot-button political issue. But bottom-line calculations also play a role. 当分配不均成为一个热点政治话题的时候，更好的公共关系就成了动机之一。但实际利益计算也发挥了作用。 Employee turnover costs money—by industry estimates as much as$5,000 per front-line worker, or 20% to 30% of an entry-level salary.

Standard turnover in retail is 50% in the first six months. If Wal-Mart can reduce this churn, persuading people to stay at least 12 to 18 months, it will save “tens of millions of dollars a year,” according to Ms. Oliver.

As I explained way back here, Henry Ford’s $5 a day was not what most people think it was. It was most certainly not, as all too many would have it, so that the newly richer workers could all buy a Model T. 我老早之前就已说过，亨利·福特的“每天五美元”并不是大多数人想象的那个样子。这么做的目的，根本就不是许多人所理解的那样，要让那些新富工人都能买T型轿车。 That would have been a great way to lose lots of money. A company cannot pay its own workers more, then see profits rise as they spend that cash on the company’s products. 想大把亏钱的人才会那么干。一个公司不能向他的员工支付更多薪水，并期待员工会把钱花到自家公司的产品上，然后公司利润会增加。 This is trying to raise yourself by your bootlaces. It also wasn’t about trying to create a vibrant midle class. What it was about was reducing the job churn on the assembly line. 这相当于是要拎着自己的靴带把自己提起来。这么做，也不是为了塑造一个有活力的中产阶级。它要做的，只是减少装配线上的人员流动。 Ford was getting through 50,000 workers a year in order to have 13,000 working on the line at any one time. That had vast recruitment and training costs. 福特每年雇佣50000名工人，以保证生产线上时刻都有13000名工人工作。这需要庞大的招募和训练费用。 So, that’s what Walmart is doing here. Let’s see if we can reduce those costs by having less churn. 所以，这就是沃尔玛现在要做的事。让我们看看减少人员流动能否减少这些花费。 That, in turn, means perhaps not bottom fishing in the labor market but improving pay relative to others so that people will stick around a little longer. 这反过来意味着，也许不再从劳动市场底层招人，而是比别家支付更高的工资，以期员工能待得更久。 This could well be a good move too but only time will tell. 这可能是一招好棋，但是效果只能交给时间检验了。 There’s also a second prong to the new strategy: 这项计划还有另一部分。 Front-line employees—cashiers, cart pushers and sales associates—will now spend their first months at the company in a supervised on-the-job training program. 现在，一线员工，比如收银员、手推车整理员和销售助理，入职后的头几个月会在公司接受有人指导的在职训练计划。 In the past, they sat through a few days of orientation and safety drills, many of them focused on compliance with environmental and health regulations. 过去，他们会耐着性子接受几天新人指导和安全训练，这些训练大多数集中在遵守环境条例和卫生条例上。 The only real job training happened in the store—knowledge passed on by more experienced employees. 在店里接受的唯一真正的工作培训是由更有经验的员工传授的知识。 There’s two sides to this. One is the obvious point that if you’re expecting your workers to stick around longer then you’re also going to be willing to invest in them rather more. 这件事是有两面性的。一方面很明显，那就是如果你预期你的雇员会待得更久，那么同样，你也将会更加乐于在他们身上投资。 Because you’ll be able to amortise your investment in them over that longer period that they’re working for you. 因为你在他们身上的投资会随着他们为你工作时间的增长而分期收回。 And there’s the more obvious point of that end goal: better trained workers will be, ceteris paribus, more productive. And thus we can see that Walmart is trying to move from one labor model to another: 另一个更为明显的作用就是终极目标的实现：训练更好的员工，让他们在相同条件下生产率更高。因此我们能明白沃尔玛正在推进劳工模式的转变： Economists who study retail distinguish between “low-road” and “high-road” employers. One group keeps labor costs down, the other invests more in workers and reaps the benefits in higher productivity. Cost-conscious Wal-Mart is trying to move toward the high road. 研究零售的经济学家区分“低端”和“高端”雇主。前者压底劳工成本，后者会给员工更多的投资，然后通过更高的生产率获益。注重节约成本的沃尔玛正在向“高端”的方向靠拢。 This is all entirely traditional labor economics by the way, there’s nothing mysterious about any of it. However, there is a sting in the tail here. 顺便说一下，这全部都是传统劳动经济学的内容，没什么神秘的。然而，这里有一个令人始料未及的缺陷。 For well over a decade now I’ve been pointing out that yes, sure, Costco pays its workers very much better than Walmart does. But it also uses, per unit of sales, about half the labor that Walmart does. 十多年来，我一直在说，是的，没错，Costco支付给员工的薪水比沃尔玛要多很多。但是达成单位销量时，它用的劳动力大约是沃尔玛的一半。 Thus the shouting that Walmart can and should pay its workers like Costco does comes with that sting in that tail: for moving to the same pay structure would entail at least attempting to move to the same productivity levels. 因此“沃尔玛能够且应该像Costco一样支付工资”这种呼吁就有个意料之外的缺陷：因为采取相同的工资结构就意味着至少需要尝试把生产率拉到相同的水平。 Meaning that Walmart would employ about half the number of people per unit of sales than it currently does. 这就意味着，将来沃尔玛单位销量的雇工数量将只有目前数量的一半。 And now we’re seeing that Walmart is taking at least baby steps to that higher road labor model. And the interesting thing is going to be, well, is the prediction about employment levels going to come true too? 现在我们正目睹沃尔玛在向着“高端”劳工模式蹒跚学步。值得关注的事情将是，关于雇佣水平的预期真的会实现吗？ Just in a little more detail. Productivity is the amount of work (really, the amount of value added) that we get from one hour of labor. Raising productivity thus means getting more value added from one hour of labor. 再说得详细一点。生产率是劳动力每小时的工作量（实际上，是增加的价值量）。那么提高生产率就意味着从单位劳动量里得到更多的增加值。 And if sales are static that then obviously also means using less labor per unit of sales. 如果销售不变，那么这就明显意味着用更少的劳动力达成单位销量。 Thus raising productivity is the very same thing as saying that less labor is going to be used. This still holds even if sales or output rise: there’s still less labor going to be used than there would have been at the earlier, lower, level of labor productivity. 那么提高生产率就等同于使用更少的劳动力。销量或者产出上升的时候，这一点依然成立：需要用到的劳动力比之前劳动生产率水平更低的时候更少。 And the way to test it is pretty simple, because we can find the numbers we need to measure labor productivity in the Walmart accounts. 验证的方式很简单，因为我们能从沃尔玛的账目中找到所需的用来衡量劳动生产率的数字。 We know the number employed in the US….some 1.4 million….and we know what sales are in the US…$288 billion….so labor productivity is $205,000 and change per worker. 我们知道沃尔玛在美国的雇员数量，大约一百四十万，我们也知道它在美国境内的销售额，2880亿美元，所以劳动生产率是大约是每个员工205000美元多一点。 That’s actually sales not value added but that still gives us what we want, a number to compare over time (Costco’s sales per employee are about double this). 这个数据事实上是销售额而不是增加值，但是我们还是能从中得到我们想要的，即可以进行跨时段对比的数据。（Costco的每位雇员销售额大约是这个数字的两倍） As labor productivity rises as a result of more training and lower churn from the pay rises then we would expect to see this number rise. 当劳动生产率随着培训增加以及工资提升导致的流动率降低而增长时，我们可以预期上述数字会增加。 More sales per employee. And then we will also be able to calculate how many jobs have been lost to this rise in productivity. 每个员工将对应更多的销售量。然后我们就能计算出有多少工作岗位会由于生产率的上升而减少。 For, say, that sales rise to$250k per employee. We can then calculate how many employees would have been needed if productivity was still the old, lower, number.

The number of jobs lost will therefore be the difference between the number actually employed and the number who would have been without the productivity gain.

Yes, obviously, we would need to discount this for the general inflation rate.

My prediction is that productivity will indeed rise at Walmart in the coming years. And also that sales per employee will rise, meaning that the number employed will fall.

Not fall necessarily from the current absolute level, but fall relative to where it would have been absent the productivity increase.

Anyone want to bet against that prediction?

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