Why Amazon Is Paying $700 Million to Retrain Workers

Amazon today announced plans to retrain a third of its workforce in the United States, or about 100,000 employees, by 2025.

At a cost of roughly $7,000 each person — or a total of $700 million — the initiative is said to be one of the largest corporate retraining programs in the industry’s history, allowing employees to navigate into more highly skilled positions or even pursue professions outside of Amazon.

“While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations,” SVP of HR Beth Galetti said in a statement. “We think it’s important to invest in our employees and to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves.”

As part of the pledge, Amazon is offering on-site training for employees with technical backgrounds, a pre-paid tuition program for fulfillment center associates in positions of their choice and training in software engineering skills. The e-commerce giant is also expanding Amazon Apprenticeship, a U.S. Department of Labor-certified program that provides paid classroom training and on-the-job apprenticeships for employees to break into careers such as cloud support and software development.

The move comes at a time when new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics are increasingly disrupting the American economy. According to the retailer, its fastest-growing roles over the last five years include those of data-mapping specialists and data scientists — with a respective 832% and 505% growth — as well as logistics coordinators, solutions architects and business analysts. (The company anticipates that its workforce will expand this year to 300,000 employees in the United States.)

“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,” said Jason Tyszko, VP at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “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.”

According to Washington, D.C.-based think tank Brookings Institution, about 25% of employment in the U.S., or an estimated 36 million jobs, will be seriously impacted by automation over the coming decades — particularly more routine occupations that involve repetitive and thus easily codified (and automated) tasks.

For the retail trade sector itself, the automation potential is more than half, at 53%, already replacing jobs through self-checkout kiosks, AI concierges, mobile payment systems and Amazon Go-style stores.

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