Amazon to Retrain 100,000 Employees: Maybe Robots Won’t Take our Jobs?

AmazonAmazon announced that it will begin one of the world’s largest voluntary and free employee-retraining efforts for about 100,000 workers, one-third of its workforce.  The company will invest $700 million in employees across the company–everyone from warehouse workers to corporate executives–to help them fill technical roles within Amazon or career paths outside of Amazon by 2025.  Unlike some government programs, Amazon isn’t attempting to retrain warehouse workers as software engineers.  Instead, it aims to gradually move employees up the corporate ladder in its most valuable sectors: data science, security engineering, and business analysis.  The program is an acknowledgement that low skill workers, particularly above the age of 40, must adapt to our rapidly changing technological world or risk losing their jobs to automation.  

Tech Companies Compete for the Brightest Workers

Amazon’s primary motive for inward investment is likely the competition for employees in the US that have technical skills.  With a 3.8% unemployment rate, more job openings than unemployed people, and a small selection of high-skilled workers, Amazon and other tech giants are competing over a handful of US workers with the appropriate technical qualifications.  In effect, businesses like Walmart and Target have implemented more employee benefits to lure talent. Companies have also eased job eligibility with less demanding qualifications. For example, Amazon has lowered education requirements, it hires individuals with criminal records, and it waives drug testing. As a billion dollar company that has been accused of treating its employees like “robots” and maintaining poor working conditions, Amazon’s retraining policy in addition to its other new employee benefits have the potential to alter an ugly narrative. Last year, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 and now it is offering up to 95% of tuition for degrees in high-demand professions.  

Will Robots Steal Your Job?

Amazon’s retraining policy also addresses a fear among low skilled workers that robots will soon displace them. 7 million people have already lost their jobs to automation and McKinsey Global Institute predicts that up to one-third of Americans will have to change occupations by 2030 for the same reason.  The report adds that 50% of current work tasks are automatable by technologies that already exist. Automation will affect industries like production, food service, transportation, administration, and construction. In terms of demographic affect, artificial intelligence will primarily impact people aged 16-24 and 55-65, as well as Hispanics, American Indians, and African Americans.  Some experts argue that robots will have a “net positive” effect on jobs, creating more positions than they eliminate. Regardless, the best step a company can take to prepare for the uncertain terrain ahead is re-skilling its workforce. 

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