Amazon pledges to retrain one-third of US workforce
Amazon has pledged to spend $700m over the next six years to retrain its US workers to address the impact of automation and technology on jobs.
The ecommerce company is increasingly turning to robots and other technology in its warehouses, where it employs the majority of its 630,000 full and part-time workers around the world.
This has raised fears among some workers and critics of the company that lower-skilled jobs will no longer be done by humans.
The new initiative aims to retrain 100,000 workers, or a third of its US workforce, by 2025, for higher-skilled jobs, from technical roles in IT and software engineering to other high-demand occupations such as nursing and logistics.
It is a combination of existing Amazon programs, such as one that pays tuition and fees for warehouse workers to earn diplomas or certificates, and new initiatives, such as training in machine learning.
Amazon acknowledged that some of the workers may move into other careers outside the company. “While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations,” said Beth Galetti, head of human relations.
The move comes as US companies are grappling with the tightest labour market in decades and record low unemployment. Amazon is spending billions of dollars to expand its corporate headquarters outside of Seattle, in part to access skilled employees in other cities.
Amazon is also coming under escalating scrutiny from politicians including Democrats Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and labour groups over how it treats employees. Last year the company, whose market capitalisation is nearly $1tn, raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour in the US and £9.50 in the UK.
Critics said the retraining plans do not address their concerns, particularly over the future of warehouse workers.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people who have made Amazon into the rich company that they are. We have families and have given so much to Amazon. Now, instead of treating us with the respect we deserve, they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to train people to do jobs elsewhere so they can cut worker costs and get rid of workers,” said Safiyo Mohamed, who works at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota.
Ms Mohamed is one of the organisers of a planned strike at the warehouse next week during Amazon’s annual Prime Day sales event to demand better labour practices.
“We are going on strike Monday to stop the retaliation we are facing as we call on Amazon to make these jobs safe, reliable and ones that can uplift workers and our communities,” Ms Mohamed said. “It is clear if we don’t take action, Amazon will continue to dismiss the workers who have made them their profits in order to keep more and more for Jeff Bezos and other executives.”
Amazon told Bloomberg this week that it “offers already what this outside organisation is asking for.”
Amazon’s push to speed up shipping times — an effort on which it is spending $800m in the second quarter of this year alone — have precipitated concerns over working conditions.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has warned the delivery initiative could create dangerous conditions in warehouses. Amazon disputed that claim, telling CNN it has “a very safe work environment”.
Amazon’s profits and stock price have soared in recent years as it has offset its low-margin retail business with pushes into cloud computing and advertising. That has made its chief executive, Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, but has also made the company a target for critics of income inequality and corporate power.
The company reported $10bn in net income in 2018 on $233bn in revenue. The median compensation for employees other than Mr Bezos was $28,836 last year.