Facing unprecedented demand for groceries and other goods delivered to the doors of those isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon has on-boarded 175,000 employees nationwide in the past few months and continues to hire.

And while many businesses are struggling to retain their talent, the behemoth online retailer had announced even before the pandemic that it would commit $700 million to upskill 100,000 workers by 2025—many of whom are expected to leave Amazon for good.

That’s a point of pride for Ardine Wiliams, vice president of workforce development for Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia. On today’s episode of the Lessons Earned podcast, Williams talks to Strada’s Ben Wildavsky and Andrew Hanson about the business case for upskilling and what role big employers should play in America’s postsecondary education landscape.

“We take associates from the fulfillment center who’ve got great work experience, grit, determination. They do the training and then move out into the local community, moving from our $15-an-hour minimum wage up to a wage that’s typically 20 percent higher than what we pay,” Williams said. “It puts employees onto a career path and fills a need with local businesses that they might not otherwise be able to fill.”

One of Amazon’s upskilling programs, Career Choice, pays 95 percent of employees’ tuition up front and brings classes on-site so workers can learn before or after their shifts. The goals are threefold, Williams said: 

  • Get hourly employees onto a career ladder with a path for advancement.
  • Increase their pay over what they can earn at Amazon.
  • Target careers that are available locally so employees don’t have to move and the local economy thrives.

Of course, Amazon also benefits as Career Choice and other employee education programs help the company build its local reputation, attract new talent, and increase retention of hourly employees while they study and upskill.

To learn more about Amazon’s upskilling program, listen to Williams’ interview on  Lessons Earned.

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