July 23 (Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc. will offer pre-paid tuition for some employees to study areas such as aircraft mechanics, nursing and computer-aided design, stepping up efforts to retain workers ahead of the holiday shopping season.
Amazon will pay as much as 95 percent of the costs for workers at its fulfillment centers, who provide the physical labor for finding, packing and sending orders placed on the Internet retailer’s website. The offer applies to those who have been with Amazon as little as three years, the Seattle-based company said today in a post on its website.
“Unlike traditional tuition reimbursement programs, we exclusively fund education only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand according to sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we fund those areas regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon,” Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos said on the company’s website.
The employee recruitment and retention effort comes ahead of the holiday shopping season, when Amazon said its need for fulfillment center workers temporarily doubles. The tuition initiative builds on previous efforts to recruit retirees and military veterans, Bezos said. While some workers may leave upon completing their studies, promised tuition will keep them “essentially tied to Amazon” until they complete degrees, said Victor Anthony, an analyst at Topeka Capital Markets.
“This could be one way for them to attract innately motivated employees,” Anthony said in an interview. “To help fund nursing degrees is definitely unusual.”
The U.S. unemployment rate, which held at 8.2 percent in June, has been 8 percent or higher since February 2009. Employers nationwide added 80,000 jobs last month, after 77,000 in May, U.S. Labor Department data showed on July 6. Private payrolls climbed 84,000 in June, the weakest in 10 months.
Amazon’s workers have reported unsafe working conditions at some of the company’s fulfillment centers. An emergency room doctor near a warehouse in Lehigh, Pennsylvania treated so many employees for heat exhaustion that he called federal regulators to report an unsafe work environment, The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania reported in September.
Bezos said the company’s warehouse employees were paid 30 percent more than physical retail workers and that its safety was so good that “it’s statistically safer to work in an Amazon fulfillment center than in a traditional department store,” he said on the company’s website today.
Amazon started the tuition program because a more educated workforce will lead to more engaged, longer-term employees, said Mary Osako, an Amazon spokeswoman.
“A long-term, engaged, positive workforce is critical to delivering the high level of customer service that people expect from us,” she said in an e-mailed statement.
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