Amazon says it will spend $700 million to retrain 100,00 of its U.S. employees by 2025 as automation transforms the workplace and competition intensifies to recruit talent. Companies such as AT&T, Walmart, JPMorgan Chase and Company, and Accenture are also pursuing programs that prepare their workers for rapid digital transformation requiring high tech job skills. These investments are large-scale experiments in whether companies can remake their existing workforces to fit a fast-changing technological world.
- As a business leader, what new skills training would you offer to meet future requirements?
- What can business leaders do to ensure workers receive more support for development? Could policymakers incentivize companies to increase training efforts through tax credits and new learning?
- Amazon’s training doesn’t require that employees remain with the company. How does this factor build trust or loyalty within the organizational culture?
- Amazon’s promise to upgrade the skills of its workforce is one of the biggest corporate retraining initiatives on record, breaking down to about $7,000 per worker, or about $1,200 a year through 2025.
- The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has been trying to organize Amazon workers, said it opposed the retraining program. The group said Amazon’s adoption of automation would “lead to massive job losses that could cripple our entire economy.”
- “The scale and pace of the changes in the workforce are unprecedented,” said Susan Lund, an economist at the McKinsey Global Institute, “They can’t hire off the street everyone they need. They have no choice but to retrain their own workers.”
It’s difficult for companies to know which skills will be in demand in the future. Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 program will be based on insights into its workforce, which suggest that the fastest-growing jobs areas include data mapping specialists, data scientists, solutions architects, and security engineers. Amazon is currently struggling to find employees for its more technical roles, with 20,000 job opportunities currently open across the country.
The fear that robots are taking jobs, and that automation will inevitably lead to mass unemployment, has grabbed the popular imagination. Headlines warn of a robot apocalypse. Andrew Yang, a former tech entrepreneur, is running for president partly on a platform of offering a universal income to offset jobs lost to automation.
However, most economists and technologists believe that for the next few years, digital technology, from sophisticated software to warehouse robots, will mainly change jobs rather than destroy them. Tasks become automated, allowing people to spend less time on routine work.
So far, there is little evidence of widespread worker displacement. Amazon and other companies have hired hundreds of thousands of workers for their warehouses. Manufacturers have added jobs after decades of cuts. The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low, and companies are struggling to find qualified workers — easing education requirements, waiving drug tests, and hiring people with criminal records.
Many economists are concerned that there has not been enough automation. Productivity — the amount of value that employees create, on average, in an hour of work — has risen slowly. That has lowered both economic growth and wages. When workers aren’t more productive, it is harder for companies to pay them more.