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About 400 people filled out applications at Amazon's Fall River warehouse Wednesday as part of a national hiring spree.
The company held coordinated job fairs in a dozen cities in part because it currently has more than 50,000 warehouse jobs available across the country.
The company's Fall River facility — about the size of 28 football fields — is filled with miles of conveyor belts.
Many of the warehouse employees are forklift drivers, pickers and packers. Amazon says it needs to hire hundreds more of them in order to quickly keep up with customer demand.
"In Massachusetts, we're hoping to hire over 700 jobs — if not today, within the next week or so based on this Amazon jobs day event," said Cedric Ross, a company spokesman. He said the company had expected about 200 people to show up, but two hours into the job fair, the company had already exceeded those expectations.
The lines were long and some people waited hours for interviews. There were people in their 20s looking for a first-time gig and people well into their 50s, looking for a new opportunity after losing their lifelong job. Some were from the South Coast, others came from out of state. Either way, most folks said they just wanted a new opportunity — and the opportunity to work for a big company with benefits sounded better than their current options.
"I was just looking to change my field. Where I am right now does not agree with me, I wasn't quite built for it," said Joshua Starr. He's couch surfing and working for a cable company.
James Bent had a similar feeling. His current work wasn't satisfying financially.
"I have a family to support so ... I got to find whatever I can get my hands on," Bent said, as he waited in line for an Amazon tour.
Amazon says it intends to hire both part-time employees and full-time employees with benefits.
Fall River is home to one of the highest unemployment rates in the state at 6.9 percent, according to the most recent data from the state's Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. So Amazon's promise of jobs (whether part-time or full-time) is enticing.
The company wouldn't share exact salary amounts, but both job ads and potential employees confirm a starting salary around $12.75 per hour.
That's the kind of additional money Ryan Lynch could use.
"I'm a stay-at-home dad. I'm trying to look for a second- or third-shift job to make some extra money so that I can help out with my family," Lynch said as he waited for an Amazon interview.
But after his interview, Lynch left WBUR a voicemail with an update.
"This job opportunity's not gonna work for me, 'cause I would have to work until 4:30 in the morning, and I have to take care of my baby all day," he said. He sounded disheartened. "But, it really stinks that this isn't gonna work out for me, 'cause it would have been great."
Amazon's relationship with retail is complicated. The company once thought to be the job killer — decimating Main Streets across America — has now become the job creator.
"The thing is, Amazon is hiring. And so they are growing. The trick is they're probably not growing fast enough to offset the decline in retail employees," said Bruce Clark, a business professor at Northeastern University.
Clark says the jobs gained are not balancing out the jobs lost in part because the average Amazon employee brings in more dollars than the average retail employee.
"Amazon employees are far more productive," Clark said, pointing to data showing sales per employee.
"Amazon is a company that's relentlessly efficient," he added. Meaning that even as Amazon grows and hires more people, it may not gain as many warehouse employees as retail sheds.
Plus, another factor to consider is automation. In 2012, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems, a robotics company that was based in Massachusetts.
"One of the things that I would be thinking about if I were an employee is how long is this job here. Because I think warehouse automation is definitely increasing, and it's very much in Amazon's interest to make warehouses as efficient as possible," Clark said.
But he offered a reality check: Robots are not taking warehouse jobs. At least, not yet. Humans are still a lot better at picking items; they have more nimble fingers to sort through bins.
And, so, as long as we all keep shopping on Amazon, Amazon will need to continue hiring people to keep up with our shopping habits.
Gabrielle Healy contributed to this story
This segment aired on August 3, 2017.
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