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Amazon Offers Training And Career Change Paths To Thousands Of Mass. Employees

A U.S. postal carrier delivers Amazon orders to an apartment complex in downtown Pittsburgh in July of 2019. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
A U.S. postal carrier delivers Amazon orders to an apartment complex in downtown Pittsburgh in July of 2019. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Some of Amazon's 4,500 Massachusetts employees may soon be better positioned to change careers thanks to the tech giant — even if it means leaving Amazon.

The company announced Thursday it will spend $700 million to retrain 100,000 workers nationwide, expanding old initiatives and creating new ones to help workers learn new skills.

The announcement comes after months of public criticism by politicians, comedians and Amazon employees over how Amazon treats its workers.

Warehouse workers, such as those who work at Amazon's Fall River facility, can now participate in a 90-day program to switch to IT jobs, making sure warehouse technology is running smoothly — no college degree required. Other non-technical employees can take courses in software engineering.

Babson College professor and business researcher Peter Cohan says this strategy could help Amazon fill open jobs, but it could also send employees elsewhere.

"You might train somebody for a new job and they might say, 'Wow, I'm gonna go somewhere else where I can get paid more to do that job that they just trained me for,' " Cohan says.

That seems to be part of Amazon's goal. The company said it will also expand a tuition payment program for employees who pursue degrees in fields unrelated to Amazon, like nursing.

"While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations," Beth Galetti, a senior vice president of human resources at Amazon, told The Associated Press. "We think it's important to invest in our employees, and to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves."

Today's labor market is tight, meaning there's not much unemployment, says Cohan, so companies add perks like training programs to entice employees without raising wages.

"Despite the fact that there seems to be a worker shortage, companies are resisting the idea of paying massive increases in base pay," Cohan says.

Amazon raised its minimum wage for U.S. workers to $15 an hour last year.

The company's push for in-house retraining comes after a Northeastern University/Gallup poll, released in June, showed that many Americans have doubts about the benefits of a college degree. If their skills became obsolete, 70% of American respondents said they would look to on-the-job training offered by an employer.

Much of the training Amazon will offer is free, which is significant considering about two-thirds of the Americans surveyed said cost is a leading barrier to obtaining new skills.

But Cohan expresses some skepticism about Amazon's retraining initiative. He says based on historical trends, the country's economy is past due for a downturn. A recession would flood the labor market with job seekers, and this would allow Amazon to hire people who already have the training the company wants, says Cohan.

Even so, he admits Amazon is known for transforming industries.

"Perhaps Amazon will end up doing this really well and setting a standard that other companies end up following," he says.

Amazon's job training programs could reach even more Massachusetts employees. The company has plans to bring at least 2,000 new jobs to Boston's Seaport in 2021.

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