Amazon commits $700 million to retrain workers in new skills

Amazon said it will spend $700 million to retrain about one-third of its U.S. workforce in skills needed to thrive in the new economy.

The e-commerce giant, which is increasingly using robots to help sort and deliver packages, said it will retrain 100,000 workers by 2025 to allow employees move into more highly skilled jobs within the company or find new careers outside of Amazon, according to a statement Thursday.

The program would enable employees who work in fulfillment centers to move into technical roles regardless of any previous IT experience. Employees without technical expertise could learn skills to transition into software engineering careers. Amazon would also offer pre-paid tuition to train fulfillment center associates in high-demand occupations of their choice, among other options.

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Amazon.com Inc. offices in Seattle, Washington. Photographer: Daniel Berman/Bloomberg

“For us, creating these opportunities is just the beginning,” said Beth Galetti, senior vice president in human resources. “While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations.”

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In the tightest labor market in a half-century, Amazon is competing with other companies to hire the best and brightest and could help sidestep that challenge with a renewed emphasis on training. Helping employees adjust to the digital transformation of the economy also could assuage labor groups and lawmakers such as Senator Bernie Sanders who say Amazon needs to improve working conditions. Last year, the e-commerce giant raised the minimum wage for its employees to $15 an hour.

Amazon said its U.S. workforce will reach 300,000 employees this year. After reviewing internal employment and hiring data, it found the fast-growing, highly skilled jobs included data-mapping specialists, data scientists, solutions architects and business analysts.

There are now more job openings in the country — 7.4 million — than there are unemployed Americans — 6 million — Amazon said, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The challenge is not just adapting to new technologies, but adapting to the dynamism of the economy, which will only accelerate,” said Jason Tyszko, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in the Amazon statement.

Other choices in the Upskilling 2025 program include the launch of a Machine Learning University. The initiative will help workers who already have a background in technology and coding gain skills in machine learning. Debuting as a small cohort of people, the program aims to train thousands of employees, Amazon said.

In the Growing Career Choice program, Amazon will pay as much as 95% of tuition and fees toward a certificate or diploma in fields of study leading to in-demand jobs.