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Walmart employees graduate Las Vegas Training Academy

Daniel McGow had never felt graduation robes on his shoulders.

He had never flipped a tassel on a graduation cap or walked across a stage to receive a diploma.

But in the back of a Walmart on Boulder Highway on Tuesday, McGow experienced all the traditions of a graduation ceremony. He was surrounded by colleagues in blue robes and yellow sashes. His family shouted from the audience when the speaker called his name.

McGow was one of 75 employees graduating as the first class from Walmart’s Las Vegas Training Academy, which also celebrated its grand opening during the ceremony.

“It’s kind of overwhelming for me,” said McGow, who has worked at the location for three years. “I never thought this store would be in a position to be an academy store.”

The academy, at the Walmart at 5198 Boulder Highway, will train company employees moving into leadership positions, such as department managers, said Robert Teevan, the company’s regional human resources director. The academy will train employees from 37 stores in the Las Vegas Valley, Mesquite, Pahrump and locales in Arizona and Utah.

Teevan said the first academy was started in February 2016 in Texas. The Las Vegas location is No. 137 out of 200 training centers set to open by the end of 2017.

Academies can train up to 90 associates per week, he said. The Las Vegas store has 2,500 square feet of rooms dedicated to the academy, with up to 3,000 more square feet of classrooms to be built in the future.

Teevan said the academies were created to ensure employees had proper training to address changing shopping habits.

“Our associates are going to need a different set of skills to help and serve our customers in the future,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of things to stay competitive.”

During the graduation, Kate Vukelich, a regional general manager for Walmart’s neighborhood markets, spoke about the changing retail industry. Among the changes are Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, announced Friday.

Rhyz Mendoza-Baird, a Walmart training coordinator, said she felt accomplished after graduating from the academy. Mendoza-Baird moved to Las Vegas from the Philippines in 2006 and has worked at Walmart since then.

Mendoza-Baird went to college in her home country but experienced her first graduation ceremony on Tuesday.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” the 49-year-old said.

McGow has come a long way from when he first came to work at Walmart. The 30-year-old said he started as an overnight temporary employee, working long hours to support his family.

He worked his way up through positions and now manages the lawn and garden department.

He took the classes necessary to receive a high school diploma but never participated in a graduation ceremony. McGow said no matter where his career with Walmart takes him, he will always remember walking across the stage, shaking his supervisors’ hands and receiving a diploma.

“I’ll still have good memories from this day,” he said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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