Amazon to 'Upskill' Third of Employees for 'Skills We Know Are in Demand,' Says Vice President

Ardine Williams, Amazon's VP of workforce development
July 11, 2019

By Spencer Feingold

Amazon is vowing to provide skills training to roughly a third of its employees across the U.S. with a new $700 million program, the company announced Thursday.

The Upskilling 2025 pledge promises to give 100,000 employees access to training for in-demand jobs and "highly skilled roles within or outside of Amazon" in the next six years.

"It is very difficult to tell where things are going to be in three to five years, particularly with the pace that technology changes," Ardine Williams, Amazon's vice president of workforce development, told Cheddar. "What we are doing right now is training employees for skills we know are in demand now for jobs that are growing."

The initiative comes as companies across industries ready themselves — and their employees — for shifting needs in the economy, which is expected to be dominated by automation and machine learning.

Under the pledge, Amazon ($AMZN) employees will have access to several training programs, including the new Amazon Technical Academy and Associate2Tech. Both train fulfillment center and non-technical staff for engineering roles. An expanded Amazon Apprenticeship program will also offer traineeships within the company.

The e-commerce behemoth found that its fastest growing jobs in recent years were highly skilled technical positions, such as data mapping specialists, data scientists, and solutions architects.

"As we look to fill jobs, the ones that are the most difficult to fill, the ones that have the greatest career trajectory, are the ones with technical skills," Williams said.

Amazon has taken heat in recent years from labor advocates over pay disparities and poor working conditions for its low-skilled workers — the employees most threatened by automation. The company did implement a $15-an-hour minimum wage last year, yet labor grievances have endured. Just next week, a worker's strike is planned at a fulfillment center in Minnesota to coincide with Amazon's Prime Day.

"While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations," Beth Galetti, Amazon's senior vice president of human resources, 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."

The upskilling pledge also expands the AmazonCareer Choice program, a free tuition offering for fulfillment center staff to get training for high-demand jobs, and the AWS Training and Certification course, which allows employees to get certified in Amazon Web Services cloud technology — an asset for future technical positions.

The company is also launching a Machine Learning University for technical employees to learn additional skills in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

"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," Jason Tyszko, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's vice president, said in a statement. "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."