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Walmart plans to bolster private fleet with push to hire 500 new truck drivers

Julia La Roche

Walmart (WMT) plans to hire 500 truck drivers in 2020, even with its private fleet already at record levels, as surging Internet sales create a greater need for people to deliver those orders. 

The big-box retailer already employs over 9,000 drivers, but needs more on both coasts — especially in states like Washington, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Nevada will also be a key area for recruitment, according to Walmart.

The hiring push comes amid a nationwide truck driver shortage, and increased demand to move more freight. For a retailer like Walmart, trucking is its lifeblood, with drivers hauling freight from distribution centers and vendors to service Walmart's 4,700 U.S. stores.

To lure drivers, Walmart is touting a generous average salary of $87,500 per year for a newcomer, well above the median salary of $53,000 of a truck driver working a national, irregular route makes in a year, according to a recent study from the American Trucking Associations. 

A new Walmart driver can immediately earn up to 21 days of paid time off. That said, applicants must have at least 30 months of experience, and meet other stringent requirements.

WASHINGTON, UT - JUNE 06: A truck enters a large regional Walmart distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah. Walmart has announced one day delivery and other services to challenge Amazon. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Founder Sam Walton recognized the importance of the role early, as he frequently relied on drivers to be his eyes and ears for what's happening in stores. Meanwhile, current CEO Doug McMillon also sees value in the position: He spent his first day at the helm in Brookhaven, Mississippi on a ride-along.

E-commerce is also playing a role in growing demand, with Walmart posting e-commerce sales growth of 37% last year, ahead of its own target of 35%. The retailer is locked in a cage match with Amazon (AMZN), and has been aggressively boosting its order and delivery offerings to compete.

For full-year 2021, Walmart expects U.S. e-commerce growth to be "around 30%," with quarterly growth ranging from the mid-20s to the mid-30s. At the investment community meeting last month, CFO Brett Biggs noted that e-commerce is poised to represent more than half of Walmart's total global sales growth. 

One of the crucial selling points for Walmart's truck driving recruitment efforts is the current fleet's high safety track record. 

In fact, Walmart drivers never have to unload or load freight — and they can park in store lots, and get paid $42 to take mandatory 10-hour rest breaks. 

Joe Metzger, the senior vice president of Walmart U.S. transportation, explained that "safety is a critical feature,” as is a predictable schedule. A Walmart driver can expect to work five days on the road and two days at home. 

However, Metzger cautioned that “we do have high expectations of the drivers, and we are extremely selective.” 

Julia La Roche is a Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.