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How – and why – Amazon is investing in training up its staff for highly-skilled jobs

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Amazon is to pay to train up 100,000 – or one in three – of its US staff so that they will be equipped to take on the highly skilled jobs of the present and future.

The US retail giant, which also leads the UK ecommerce market and is ranked Elite in IRUK Top500 research, this week unveiled an Upskilling 2025 initiative, backed with more than $700m (£550m) in investment, and aimed at training up and moving staff from relatively unskilled backgrounds in order to take on highly skilled jobs at its corporate offices, fulfilment centres, retail stores, tech hubs and logistics networks over the next six years.

Why now?

The move comes at a time both of growing automation in business areas where retailers have previously employed less skilled staff, but also of staff shortages in its US market. Amazon cites US Bureau of Labor Statistics figures that show more job openings (7.4m) than unemployed Americans (6m). 

Amazon itself is testing the use of drones to deliver by air and robots to make last-mile deliveries, adding to already highly-automated warehouses. 

At the same time, within Amazon’s US business, demand for data mapping specialists has grown by 832% in the last five years, while it is also in need of data scientists (jobs up by +505%), solutions architects (+454%), security engineers (+229%), and business analysts (+160%). Demand has also grown in fulfilment, with a 400% rise in demand for people to take on roles such as logistics coordinator, process improvement managers and transportation specialists. 

How will it work?

By training up to take on these jobs, says Amazon, workers can gain new skills and earn more. They can do that through newly-launched programmes including the Amazon Technical Academy, open to non-technical staff to move into software engineers, Associate2Tech, which takes fulfilment centre staff and equips them for an IT career. Those who already have technical skills can learn more through the Machine Learning University. The business will also expand its existing apprenticeship programme and give staff access to 

Beth Galetti, senior vice president, HR at Amazon, said: “For us, creating these opportunities is just the beginning. While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations. We think it’s important to invest in our employees, and to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves. With this pledge, we’re committing to support 100,000 Amazonians in getting the skills to make the next step in their careers.”

Jason Tyszko, vice president at the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said: “The future of work is now and the challenge is not just adapting to new technologies, but adapting to the dynamism of the economy, which will only accelerate. Amazon is demonstrating the new role employers must play to counter that challenge, fostering a new relationship with workers where maintaining and growing their skills is an imperative for business success.”

Why is this relevant in the UK and Europe?

This programme may be taking place, at least initially, in the US, but Amazon’s tackling a problem that’s relevant across geographies. As people do more of their shopping online, and as retailers reshape their digital capabilities in order to respond, they need staff who are not only highly-skilled, but are highly skilled in areas that have only recently started to exist. More and more retailers, from Amazon and Ocado to the John Lewis Partnership and, more recently, Shop Direct Group, are using automated warehouses in order to serve customers faster. That leaves retailers with too many unskilled workers at one level, and not enough highly trained staff at another. What if they could be trained to move from one role to the next? That’s the question Amazon is answering through its investment. It’s expensive, but Amazon clearly deems it’s necessary. Can other retailers ultimately afford not to invest in their own staff?

Image courtesy of Amazon

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