Amazon employees who are filling boxes in warehouses may be the industry's next engineers.
The company announced Thursday that it will spend more than $700 million to train 100,000 employees for higher-skilled jobs over the next six years.
These training programs will be offered to workers throughout all levels of the company, not just those in warehouses. Participants can pick one of several programs, ranging from learning skills for other jobs at Amazon to earning certifications that could be used outside the company.
The move is just the latest in a series of efforts by large retailers to woo and retain workers in one of the tightest labor markets in history. For example, Walmart last month announced a new program that will pay for college test preparation for its high school workforce.
Amazon will pay for employees to attend the company's Machine Learning University or learn software development skills through its Amazon Technical Academy. Employees can also participate in apprenticeships and get Amazon Web Services cloud certification at a discount.
Some benefits apply only to certain employees. Amazon is pledging to pay up to 95% of the cost of tuition for fulfillment-center workers looking to earn a certificate or diploma in a field that's in high demand.
Last year, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 and rolled out more health benefits for employees, like 20 weeks of paid parental leave. Although the company has offered training in the aforementioned fields for a while, Ardine Williams, Amazon's vice president of workforce development, said the company is investing more into these programs to make Amazon an even more attractive employer for current associates and people looking for a job.
"We have the opportunity to create great job opportunities, and these skills and experiences create new options and career paths for employees," Williams said.
Amazon has faced pushback over working conditions. Next week, about 100 employees in Minnesota plan to walk out on Prime Day, one of the company's biggest sales events, to demand better working conditions.
Many of the lower-skilled warehouse jobs that Amazon currently offers are expected to be replaced by machines in coming years. As machines enter the workforce, new jobs for maintaining and developing them are created. One reason employers are training employees in high-tech skills is to fill these new jobs.
Google even created training resources for people outside its own workforce. In 2018, the company started offering an IT certificate, among other certification programs, that anyone can earn. Anyone who completes the certificate and wants to continue studying IT can use it as 12 hours of credit in an online degree from Northeastern University, and some community colleges have partnered with Google to offer the IT certification.
Other companies have rolled out similar training and education benefits designed to boost employee retention in the tight labor market. In addition to its expanded education programs offering ACT and SAT prep courses, Walmart is also offering to help workers enroll in college courses for $1 a day.
Note: Amazon is one of NPR's sponsors.