July 23, 2012, 11:24 AM

Amazon offers school aid to hourly workers

The e-retailer’s new program focuses on full-time fulfillment employees.

Amy Dusto

Associate Editor

Lead Photo

Amazon.com Inc. today announced a new program to help the e-retailer’s fulfillment center and other hourly employees complete coursework for technical or vocational certificates or associate’s degrees. Amazon will pre-pay 95% of tuition, textbook and associated fees, up to $2,000 per year. Employees must have worked in a full-time hourly position for the retailer for at least three consecutive years to be eligible, says Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

The “Amazon Career Choice Program” allows employees to pursue studies regardless of their relevance to a career with the retailer—but with one catch: Amazon says it will fund schooling only in job areas it has determined are highly paying and in-demand. Amazon will use data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources to make such determinations. Some of the potential fields of study Amazon cites include aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technology, medical laboratory science, dental hygiene and nursing.

The program is designed to help retain fulfillment center employees beyond seasonal positions, the retailer says. "A long-term, engaged, positive workforce is critical to delivering the high level of customer service that people expect from us," says an Amazon spokeswoman.

CEO Jeff Bezos announced the new program in a message on the home page of Amazon.com. He calls it an experiment that he hopes other companies will copy. “Many of our fulfillment center employees will choose to build their careers at Amazon. For others, a job at Amazon might be a step towards a career in another field,” he says. “We want to make it easier for employees to make that choice and pursue their aspirations. It can be difficult in this economy to have the flexibility and financial resources to teach yourself new skills.”

The program also allows online coursework, so long as it is from an accredited school in an Amazon-approved field of study, the retailer says.


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