BIZMOLOGY — Front and center on Amazon’s homepage today is a letter from CEO Jeff Bezos announcing the Amazon Career Choice Program. Under the new program, warehouse workers can receive tuition assistance in an Amazon-specified field. These include aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technology, medical laboratory science, dental hygiene, and nursing.
To be eligible, employees need to work for Amazon for three years and the benefit is capped at $2,000 per year. Only technical and vocational programs are covered by the program.
While the connection between packing boxes and dental hygiene isn’t immediately apparent, the program demonstrates the growing competition to attract and retain workers to staff the online giant’s vast and rapidly-expanding network of fulfillment centers. (At the end of 2011 Amazon employed more than 15,000 full-time permanent workers at more than 30 warehouses in the US.) The letter says the program is designed to expand workers’ choices whether they stay at Amazon or move to another job at another company.
The tuition offer follows recent criticism that some Amazon warehouse workers may face harsh working conditions. The e-tailer’s booming business and rush to fill order quickly, put some employees under tremendous pressure to boost production news reports say. Indeed, an article in The Morning Call last September interviewed 20 current and former employees at Amazon’s warehouse in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania who told of soaring temperatures and a brutal work pace.
It’s obvious that by posting his self-congratulatory letter on the homepage and addressing it to customers (not employees), Bezos has public relations in mind. Still, the new tuition reimbursement program has the potential to benefit thousands Amazon employees. Who’s gonna argue with that?