Amazon is grooming its vast workforce for the automation job apocalypse that the company itself is helping to bring about thanks to its robotics division.
As the company introduces more robots and automated systems to sort goods and fill orders at its warehouses, making more of its increasingly better-paid workforce redundant, the company apparently wants to be seen as giving them a chance to learn new skills - like, for example, how to code - before shunting them aside.
As WSJ reports, Amazon is planning to spend $700 million - a drop in the bucket compared with the company's $240 billion annual revenue - to retrain a third of its American workforce to try and give them a fighting chance of still having a job once the robots take over. The program is designed to help workers find new jobs inside - or outside - the company.
The company expects to announce Thursday that it will retrain 100,000 workers by 2025 by expanding existing training programs and rolling out new ones meant to help its employees move into more advanced jobs inside the company or find new careers outside of it. The training is voluntary, and most of the programs are free to employees, the company said.
"Technology is changing our society, and it’s certainly changing work," said Jeff Wilke, chief executive of Amazon’s world-wide consumer business, adding that the initiative is meant to help workers "be prepared for the opportunities of the future."
As WSJ points out, the initiative breaks down to about $7,000 per worker. The company plans to save money by pressing some of its employees with a background in academia into teaching roles. As part of the initiative, Amazon will also expand a program for fulfillment-center employees called Amazon Career Choice which pays 95% of an employee’s tuition and fees for certificates and degrees in high-demand fields like being an aircraft mechanic or a nurse - even though the company doesn't hire anyone with those skill sets. It's just another example of Amazon being a magnanimous employer and ensuring that its warehouse workers might still be able to scratch out a living once they're no longer needed on the warehouse floor.
Hourly workers in the company's warehouses can retrain "for an IT support role" like...managing the machines that are being used in the warehouses. "Nontechnical" corporate workers can also opt to train on how to become a software engineer.
Even the software engineers - a skill set that the company can't tap fast enough - will have the opportunity to retrain in a 'machine learning' lab, a skillset that the company desperately needs to cultivate, but which is also in short supply.
Some of the programs offered by Amazon include more advanced training, such as its Machine Learning University, which will be open to thousands of software engineers with computer-science backgrounds to take graduate-level machine-learning skills courses without going back to college. Amazon employees, some of whom are former university professors, will teach the classes.
There's still some debate about whether workplace training programs work, since most employees are too busy juggling life, family and work to make time for learning new skills. But at least when its time for mass layoffs, Amazon will be able to tell the press that it gave its employees a chance to learn new skills - they just didn't take it.