Amazon.com has been on the hot seat in the past year, with labor groups and the media criticizing working conditions at some of the online retailer’s fulfillment centers.
But now Amazon is taking a unique approach to getting some of its warehouse workers trained in other fields, especially higher paying technical positions like aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technology and medical laboratory science.
In a message posted on the Amazon home page, founder Jeff Bezos unveiled a tuition assistance effort for staffers called the Amazon Career Choice Program. The initiative is designed to pay the tuition for Amazon.com employees who’ve worked for the company for three years, paying 95 percent of tuition, textbooks and other fees up to $2,000 per year.
“At Amazon, we like to pioneer, we like to invent, and we’re not willing to do things the normal way if we can figure out a better way,” Bezos writes.
Of course, Amazon.com — whose staff has mushroomed in the past year to more than 65,000 people — is in desperate need of higher-skilled engineers and technically-minded workers. But the company says that the new careers program is not about serving its own needs.
“The Amazon Career Choice Program is an innovative program designed to expand the choices available to our associates in their future career, whether that’s at Amazon or in another industry,” according to a FAQ on the site. “Many Associates will choose to build a career at Amazon. For others, a job at Amazon may be the first step in a career path in another industry.”
Sage Wilson, a representative for Working Washington, a Seattle-based labor group, applauded the education efforts from Amazon.com. But Wilson said there’s more work that needs to be done.
“Certainly, we are glad to see Amazon responding to public concerns and beginning to take steps to improve conditions for workers in their warehouses, first with their announcement they would invest in air conditioning warehouses … and now with today’s announcement that they will invest in workers’ education. Amazon certainly hasn’t solved every problem at their warehouses, but these are good steps — and yet another example of how peaceful persistent public pressure can make a difference for workers.”
Here’s the full letter from Bezos that appeared on the Amazon home page today:
At Amazon, we like to pioneer, we like to invent, and we’re not willing to do things the normal way if we can figure out a better way.
One area where we’ve seen particular success is our fulfillment center network. Sustained innovation inside our fulfillment centers has driven improved reliability, accuracy, and speed of delivery, as well as productivity and safety. Our high productivity allows us to pay our fulfillment center employees 30% more than traditional physical retail store employees while still offering customers the lowest prices. Our work on safety practices has been so effective that it’s statistically safer to work in an Amazon fulfillment center than in a traditional department store.
Our bias for reinvention extends into our recruiting teams. For most of the year, our full-time fulfillment center employees can keep up with customer demand. But during the holiday gift-giving season, our peak needs temporarily double, and we employ many more people. Our seasonal recruiting program called CamperForce — where RVers combine work with camping — has been very successful and much written about in the media. And our military veteran recruiting program effectively helps vets transition into the civilian workforce. Amazon was recently named the #1 Top Military Friendly Employer by G.I. Jobs Magazine.
Those are just a few examples, and innovation doesn’t stop. Today, we’re announcing our newest innovation — one we’re especially excited about — the Amazon Career Choice Program.
Many of our fulfillment center employees will choose to build their careers at Amazon. For others, a job at Amazon might be a step towards a career in another field. We want to make it easier for employees to make that choice and pursue their aspirations. It can be difficult in this economy to have the flexibility and financial resources to teach yourself new skills. So, for people who’ve been with us as little as three years, we’re offering to pre-pay 95% of the cost of courses such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies, nursing, and many other fields.
The program is unusual. Unlike traditional tuition reimbursement programs, we exclusively fund education only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand according to sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we fund those areas regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.
Like many of our innovations at Amazon, the Career Choice Program is an experiment. We’re excited about it and hope it will pay big dividends for some of our employees. This is one innovation that we hope other companies in this economy will copy.
Thanks for being a customer,