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Amazon to cover 100%* of college* tuition* for hourly employees* in the US

* Terms and conditions apply. See in store for caveats. No purchase necessary

Amazon on Thursday said more than 750,000 of its US-based operations employees will be eligible to receive at least some funding to cover college tuition costs though only at schools that partner with the internet giant.

The tuition initiative represents an expansion of the company's Career Choice program, which supports worker education and training, often at Amazon facilities.

"Amazon is now the largest job creator in the US, and we know that investing in free skills training for our teams can have a huge impact for hundreds of thousands of families across the country,” said Dave Clark, CEO of Worldwide Consumer at Amazon, in a statement. "We launched Career Choice almost ten years ago to help remove the biggest barriers to continuing education – time and money – and we are now expanding it even further to pay full tuition and add several new fields of study."

Asked to provide a list of the "hundreds of education partners across the country" where Amazon will foot the tuition bill, a spokesperson told The Register a complete list is being prepared and that more information will be available in January.

The e-gift shop, compute utility, grocery, and logistics biz framed the deal in more precise terms on its website: "By January 1, 2022 program offerings will expand to include GED, English language and Bachelor's degrees, program eligibility will move from 1 year to 90 days, annual budgets will increase to $5,250 with no lifetime maximum, and Amazon will cover up to 100 per cent of eligible expenses."

So Amazon is not footing the bill for a $50,000+ per year Ivy League education. It's helping people attend, for example, Alamo Colleges, a network of community colleges in Texas.

There's more fine print here in the form of an FAQ, which states employees "may continue to enroll in classes as long as they are employed at Amazon." Workers can spend "as much or as little time to complete their education as their schedule and annual budget allow." Tuition will be prepaid up to the annual maximum, which can include books and fees.

"Career Choice is available to all full- and part-time blue badge employees," the FAQ continued. "This includes all hourly non-exempt FC, CS, corporate, AWS, Amazon Fresh Stores, Amazon Books, Amazon 4-star, Amazon Pop Up, Amazon Go and certain retail and eligible subsidiary associates."

While it isn't exactly offering a blank check, Amazon is enhancing the benefits and educational opportunities available to its workers, some of whom have used the opportunity to shift into other careers outside of Amazon. The mega-corp cited Career Choice graduate and former Amazon operations employee Patricia Soto, who trained over nine months to become a certified clinical medical assistant while working at Amazon in Tracy, California.

In addition, Amazon is introducing three new training or "upskilling" programs that are tuition free for Career Choice participants. These include: AWS Grow Our Own Talent, a job training and placement service for the company's cloud service group; Surge2IT, self-paced learning resources for entry-level IT workers; and the User Experience Design and Research (UXDR) Apprenticeship, a one-year program to help employees develop user-experience and design skills.

In 2019, Amazon introduced its Upskilling 2025 initiative, which came with a $700m commitment to train 100,000 US employees by 2025. The corporation said 70,000 employees since then have participated in its nine training programs. Its expansion of Career Choice revises that investment to $1.2bn through 2025, we're told.

Amazon Technical Academy, one of the company's education options, is a nine month internal training program that has placed 98 per cent of graduates into internal software engineer roles that have improved employee compensation by an average of 93 per cent, according to the company.

That's at the high-end of salary improvements for training, however. Amazon partnered with polling firm Gallup to study the monetary benefit of upskilling programs. The company-funding study found workers increased their salaries by an average of 8.6 per cent – worth about $8,000 more annually – by completing such courses.

Under-supply and over-demand

These programs arrive at a time that has been characterized alternately as a labor shortage or as a wage and workers' rights shortage.

On Wednesday, Curtis Duba, senior economist at the economic policy division of the US Chamber of Commerce, a major business lobbying group, raised the alarm over the intensifying worker shortage.

"The biggest problem our economy faces right now is getting workers to fill the historically large amount of open jobs," said Duba in an online post. "Workers are staying on the sidelines because of too-generous government benefits (now mostly expired), fears about the virus, lack of childcare, and other factors."

Duba argues that Congress and the White House need to do more to focus on "getting people off the sidelines and back to work," without asking the companies represented by his organization to reward workers well enough to motivate a return to the labor pool.

That's what Amazon appears to be trying to do, if you ignore the union-averse company's contentious relationship with its workforce. Also, Walmart and Target revised their education benefits this year, which may have encouraged Amazon to follow suit.

"This new initiative seems to be a strategy for them to recruit and retain workers during a time when labor supply is scarce," said Audrey Guo, assistant professor of economics at Santa Clara University, in an email to The Register. "Given how high turnover is at a company like Amazon, this type of benefit could also potentially attract more serious/better quality workers than a simple hourly wage increase would." ®

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