When most people think of Amazon, they first think of the e-commerce pioneer that gives consumers the ability to buy almost anything they’re looking for with an easy, one-click shopping cart. But with the launch of an interesting letter on their homepage, it’s clear Amazon is thinking long-term about the company’s impact, not only on their millions of consumers, but on their thousands of employees as well. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, placed the letter in the space they usually reserve for pushing new product releases, describing an exciting perk for their growing roster of warehouse employees.
During this new program, Amazon’s warehouse staff will be eligible for assistance with paying tuition costs for education, as long as they are willing to study one of the fields that Amazon specifies. Some of the fields outlined include machine tool technology, nursing and medical lab technology, computer-aided design and aircraft mechanics. In the body of the letter, Bezos acknowledged that it can often be difficult to spend time and resources on continuing education, especially if you don’t have much financial flexibility. It’s pretty incredible that Amazon is going to step in to fill the gap for their hard-working employees.
Of course, there is a bit of fine print. In order to take advantage of the new Amazon program, workers must be employed at the company for at least three years. After that point, they can receive a maximum grant of $2,000 per year. And all the programs specified are vocational or technical. Any work towards a bachelors or master’s will not qualify.
The placement of the letter on Amazon’s homepage is also curious, causing some analysts to question the program’s motivation. It is customers who will be exposed to the letter on the site, not the staff themselves, so clearly the message was expected to be seen by the larger public. There have been vague reports recently discussing the negative working environment in some of Amazon’s warehouses, and a series of news articles appeared in both Seattle and Pennsylvania deriding the company’s worker welfare programs. So the letter’s prominence on the website’s homepage may have as much to do with calming public concerns as it does actually supporting the workforce. After all, many companies offer education grants or reimbursement to their employees, and don’t ever publicly promote it in such a manner.
The letter proposes that this new program is a direct acknowledgement of the success and growth they’ve seen in their fulfillment centers. It also mentions that their warehouse employees make on average 30% more than the traditional retail store employee. The letter also acknowledges the limitations of their support, but suggests it is with the workers’ best interest in mind. They pulled data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify careers that pay well and are increasing in demand, and clearly a master in education doesn’t qualify. It remains to be seen how many employees take advantage, but Amazon is certainly taking the criticism to heart, and is clearly working to control the damage.