Free college tuition for 750,000 is part of Amazon’s new education plan

Upskilling will provide employees potential for promotion, salary increases at the retail giant.
By: | September 9, 2021
Photo courtesy of Amazon

Amazon announced on Thursday it will provide 750,000 of its employees the opportunity to receive fully paid-for college tuitions as part of a $1.2 billion investment in educating and upskilling a portion of its workforce.

Though Amazon did not disclose which institutions would be part of the program, it did say prospective students could pursue associate’s or bachelor’s degrees and that they would have “limitless learning” options as long as they remained at Amazon. The online retail giant also said it would fund other endeavors for “front-line” workers, assisting them in acquiring high school diplomas, GEDs and English as a Second Language (ESL) certifications. Those interested in the programs need only be employed for three months.

One of the huge perks for those hourly workers is that Amazon will be funding their educations up front, instead of reimbursing them on the back end. With plenty of jobs available but not enough qualified workers, this could give them an edge in a challenging market still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that investing in free skills training for our teams can have a huge impact for hundreds of thousands of families across the country,” said Dave Clark, CEO of Worldwide Consumer at Amazon. “This new investment builds on years of experience supporting employees in growing their careers, including some unique initiatives like building more than 110 on-site classrooms for our employees in Amazon fulfillment centers across 37 states.”

An assist for workers, Amazon

The offering comes as Amazon tries to quell backlash about workers’ conditions, including the heavy monitoring of their movements when they aren’t performing work-related tasks and the potential exposure to COVID-19 in warehouses. Amazon founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos publicly released a statement saying, “We need to create a better vision for how we create value for employees.”

Amazon is hoping this will help them. It is likely to help Amazon, too.

Clark says more than 50,000 workers already have taken advantage of the company’s decade-old Career Choice program, which is being expanded with three new initiatives that will train up employees and help Amazon reach future goals.

  • A program called “AWS Grows Our Own Talent” will provide upskilling and job placement for Amazon’s Web Services data centers.
  • “Surge 2IT” will give entry-level workers the chance to take self-paced information technology courses, which can help workers “move up at Amazon [and] make an additional $10,000 a year.” … and theoretically would keep those employees in the Amazon pipeline.
  • A one-year apprenticeship opportunity for those interested in research and design at Amazon.

The effort, though not unique (Walmart announced in July it would offer 1.5 billion part- and full-time employees free tuitions and books), was praised by U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Senior Vice President Cheryl Oldham.

“Today, there are not enough workers to fill every open job in the United States, which means that businesses are struggling to hire—especially for roles that require specific or technical skill sets,” she said. “When large employers like Amazon commit to investing in their people through upskilling programs, especially in technical fields, it helps to ensure that the business community has access to a workforce pipeline that meets their needs today and in the future. We applaud Amazon for the investment they’re making in the workforce.”

The new investments likely will have a huge impact on the individuals who participate. A recent Amazon-Gallup poll showed that workers in upskilling programs saw salary increases of 8.5% more on average than other employees.

“I worked in a warehouse setting for years but knew I wanted to help people and had been curious about healthcare. In just nine months, I became a certified clinical medical assistant thanks to Career Choice,” former Amazon operations employee and Career Choice graduate Patricia Soto said. “A career in health care would have been difficult to obtain without tuition support from Amazon and an internship opportunity to apply my new skills.”