The site where a Walmart Academy is being built, in the parking lot of the Walmart at 8331 S. Stewart Ave in the Chatham community. The store is in the background. The Academy will offer job training services; plans call for it to be open this fall. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The Academy, opening in a Walmart that was closed for months by last year’s looting, joins similar facilities offering jobs courses at Walmart locations in Orland Hills and Crystal Lake.

When its West Chatham store was among those closed by looting last summer, Walmart pledged not just to reopen, but to revitalize the area.

It plans to keep that promise with a Walmart Academy, which is set to open at that West Chatham location later this year.

At the Academy, residents can take free job training courses starting later this year.

The West Chatham Walmart had been closed over five months after being severely damaged in the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd outside a Minneapolis convenience store during Memorial Day weekend. Without the store, hundreds of residents were left without a convenient place to shop for groceries.

Plans for the Academy were announced last year. Walmart’s vice president of learning Andy Trainor said classes at the Chatham Walmart are set to begin in late fall.

“How could you go wrong with more training and education?” said Jennipher Adkins, interim executive director of the Chatham Business Association. The business association was created over 14 years ago to connect South Side businesses to one another and promote economic growth in the community.

To Adkins, one of the best parts of the new Academy is the learning possibilities Walmart employees will receive as a part of their professional development, and that everyday customers will have access to the same trainings.

“People can go in there and also get those same skills,” she said. “I welcome this. I wish Walgreens and other people would open this up. Because it’s needed.”

To coordinate the Academy’s course offerings, Walmart brought in the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, which uses money from both the federal government as well as philanthropic groups to help employers and job seekers.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
A construction worker takes a photos of the site where the Walmart Academy is being built, in the parking lot of a Walmart in the Gresham community. The store is at 8331 S. Stewart Ave.

Partnership CEO Karin Norington-Reaves said Walmart “did their homework” in tailoring the Academy to the Chatham community.

“They talked to their other partners on the ground, researched on their own, and connected with community-based organizations, training providers, and educational institutions,” Norington-Reaves said. “They really wanted to make sure that what they bring is complementary to the available occupational training that’s already in the area.”

The Partnership opened the Chatham Education and Workforce Center in January, and has free services for job seekers, including a manufacturing classroom hosting courses like blueprint reading, introduction to electrical circuitry and computer-aided design. The Academy’s offerings won’t duplicate courses at the workforce center, Norington-Reaves said.

With both the workforce center already operating and Walmart Academy soon to open, Norington-Reaves says people will have even more chances to shape an economically solid future.

“What I hope to have happen is the creation of a bunch of different opportunities for people to explore and create better economic stability and outlook for the residents in the area.”

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