Amazon announced on Thursday it will spend $700 million to retrain and develop its employees over the next six years.
Upskilling 2025, as Amazon calls the program, will invest in programs to retrain 100,000 employees across the company’s nationwide network of locations, spanning corporate offices and technology centers, warehouses, retail stores and transportation hubs.
With nearly 300,000 employees and a market cap of almost $1 trillion, Seattle-based Amazon is one of the largest employers in the United States. The company struggles to fill in-demand technical positions and roles in emerging areas of business with a reported 20,000 vacant U.S. roles.
Chief Learning Officer reached out to Amazon for additional background information on the announcement and detail on how the initiative will be carried out but was told no executive was available to speak. Ardine Williams, a vice president of people operations, did speak on the record to other news outlets.
“The purpose isn’t really to create a job ladder from fulfillment center to CEO, but rather to meet employees where they are and create opportunities for them to build on the skills that they have,” she told Wired magazine.
The announcement comes at a time when Amazon is facing criticism for its labor practices, particularly in its nationwide network of warehouses. In response to pressure from workers and politicians, the company recently increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour. White-collar workers have not been exempt from controversy. A report published in the New York Times in 2015 described a cutthroat corporate culture rife with conflict.
Regardless of timing, the new announcement signifies a significant investment of time and money into developing people. According to the company announcement, the upskilling program will help employees move into in-demand technical and non-technical roles like data mapping specialist, data scientist, software and security engineers and business analyst roles. Amazon also reported growth of 400 percent in order fulfillment jobs like logistics coordinator, process improvement manager and transportation specialist.
“We think it’s important to invest in our employees, and to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves,” said Beth Galetti, senior vice president of HR, in a press release. “With this pledge, we’re committing to support 100,000 Amazonians in getting the skills to make the next step in their careers.”
Amazon is not the only company to dive into what’s become widely known as “reskilling” or “upskilling.” Driven by increasing automation, newly emerging skills and a tightening labor market, companies are investing in retraining their existing workforce to create a pool of qualified people to fill in-demand positions in data science and technology. Starting in 2013, AT&T undertook a similarly high-profile reskilling effort to transform its 280,000-strong workforce, investing up to $1 billion according to some estimates.
According to a 2018 report from the World Economic Forum, up to 75 million jobs could be displaced by 2022. In that same time frame, the report estimated that more than half of workers will need to engage in reskilling but that only 30 percent have actually received training in the last year.
Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 pledge will fund expansion of existing training programs as well as three new initiatives:
- Amazon Technical Academy: a coding bootcamp-like program developed by Amazon software engineers to train non-technical employees on the skills needed to move into software engineering jobs.
- Associate2Tech: a 90-day program targeted at warehouse workers to train them for IT support roles.
- Machine Learning University: Reserved for workers with a technology background, courses consists of 6-week modules taught by internal Amazon machine learning specialists.
Existing programs that will see added investment include:
- Career Choice: Expansion of the company’s tuition assistance program originally launched in 2012 for warehouse workers. Amazon plans to have 60 on-site classrooms at warehouses to support this program by end of 2020.
- Amazon Apprenticeship: Paid classroom training and apprenticeships for technical roles such as data technician and software engineer.
- AWS Training and Certification: Expanded access to classroom and online training for cloud services roles.
While reskilling initiatives are becoming increasingly popular, some studies show mixed results. One study conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor found the government’s job-training programs largely didn’t help trainees find new jobs related to their new training or lead to a significant rise in wages.