More business support for expanding training and education: Amazon’s commitment

We’ve written often about the importance of postsecondary education and training for workers in a rapidly evolving economy. And recently we’ve noted specific contributions made by major Washington firms, including Boeing, Microsoft. and others, including apprenticeship programs and internal training. So we also wanted to highlight the new commitment by Amazon to expanding training and education opportunities for its workforce. 

The company announced Thursday that it will spend more than $700 million to train 100,000 employees for higher-skilled jobs over the next six years.

These training programs will be offered to workers throughout all levels of the company, not just those in warehouses. Participants can pick one of several programs, ranging from learning skills for other jobs at Amazon to earning certifications that could be used outside the company.

As the NPR story points out, Amazon is not alone in seeking ways to spur workforce development and retention.

The move is just the latest in a series of efforts by large retailers to woo and retain workers in one of the tightest labor markets in history. For example, Walmart last month announced a new program that will pay for college test preparation for its high school workforce.

…As machines enter the workforce, new jobs for maintaining and developing them are created. One reason employers are training employees in high-tech skills is to fill these new jobs.

Google even created training resources for people outside its own workforce. In 2018, the company started offering an IT certificate, among other certification programs, that anyone can earn. Anyone who completes the certificate and wants to continue studying IT can use it as 12 hours of credit in an online degree from Northeastern University, and some community colleges have partnered with Google to offer the IT certification.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes,

Put simply, this is job retraining subsidized by Amazon. Even if Amazon eventually eliminates their positions, employees who take advantage will be better able to find work in another role at the company or with another employer. This will be far superior to the federal job-training programs that are often run by labor unions with little connection to the real future needs of employers.

Amazon will also fund graduate-level education for its software engineers at its Machine Learning University. A master’s degree in computer science typically costs about $40,000. The engineers won’t have to go back to school and take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans as so many Americans did during the recession—one reason student debt ballooned.

This isn’t charity. Amazon is acting in its self-interest by providing these educational benefits to attract and retain workers to stay ahead of competitors in a tight labor market. But if other companies follow, America could get a better-educated workforce with much less debt.

Fast Company reports,

Amazon found that over the past five years, its fastest-growing highly skilled jobs include data mapping specialist, data scientist, solutions architect, security engineer, and business analyst. In its all-important customer fulfillment division, highly skilled roles like logistics coordinator, process improvement manager, and transportation specialist also experienced a spike in demand…

Amazon points out to Fast Company that it already offers all hourly employees Career Skills, a free, on-site training and development program with classes that touch on some soft skills such as resume building, interviewing, effective speaking, and time management. The program has had over 25,000 participants.

When demand is high, markets will often find ways to respond. In this case, and others, expanding opportunities for the workforce already in place is likely to go a long way to satisfy the demand for highly-skilled employees while boosting retention rates. A good thing.