The company’s “Career Choice Program,” now 4 years old, pays 95 percent of the tuition for classes in fields that Amazon determines are in high demand based on information from the U.S. government and other sources.
Amazon.com says that more than 7,000 of its warehouse workers have taken courses that could allow them to leave their hourly jobs with the retailer for better-paying careers in nursing, truck driving and video-game design.
The company’s “Career Choice Program,” which turns 4 years old this month, pays 95 percent of the tuition for classes in fields Amazon determines are in high demand based on information from the U.S. government and other sources.
On Thursday, Amazon released new details about the program. For example, it said the fields that attract the most employees are commercial driving, information technology, health sciences and accounting. The company said Amazonians have logged more than 15 million miles of semitrailer truck driving during their training and in the early stage of their careers.
In Washington, the highest number of employees in the program aspire to be truck drivers, computer-network technicians, nurses, dental assistants and pharmacy technicians, the company said.
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The courses Amazon pays for lead to certifications and two-year degrees.
Amazon’s training program is a departure from the standard tuition-reimbursement programs many companies offer. Most corporations reimburse employees for coursework related to their careers within the company. In contrast, Amazon prepays most of the tuition and encourages the employees to leave the nest.
Further adding to interest is the program is at a time of mounting concern about how the pay and the quality of blue-collar jobs lag behind those requiring advanced skills. There’s also fear among many workers that their jobs could be replaced by robots, given the breakneck pace of automation and artificial intelligence.
Amazon occupies a key place in this debate. On its way to overtaking pretty much every other Fortune 500 employer except for Wal-Mart in a couple of years, it’s both a big proponent of automation and an increasingly important employer of blue-collar labor. With more than 240,000 employees, many of them warehouse workers, its moves in regards to long-term workforce education are likely to have an impact.
Amazon is sharing the knowledge of how it put together “Career Choice” with other companies. So far there’s been “a lot of interest,” an Amazon spokeswoman said.
Over time, the company has made refinements.
For example, it discovered that employees are more likely to attend a class if it’s where they work. So now there are eight Amazon warehouses equipped with classrooms, and plans to add 25 more classrooms in as many warehouses.
Starting this year, every new warehouse built by Amazon will come with on-site classrooms.
In Washington, Amazon offers classes at its warehouse in Sumner and is expecting to add a classroom soon at a big fulfillment center it recently opened in Kent.
The company also says it has raised the amount of tuition prepaid to $12,000 from $8,000, and lowered the tenure eligibility required of employees from three years to one year.
All full-time workers are eligible, and so are part-timers working more than 20 hours a week, albeit with a different benefit structure.