Amazon announced it will spend $700 million over the next six years to help retrain a third of its US workforce to adapt to an economy increasingly disrupted by automation and new technology.
The training, which will be voluntary, expands upon Amazon's existing programs and initiatives. The idea is to help Amazon employees progress into more advanced jobs or even new positions outside of the company. It will be available to 100,000 workers by 2025.
Amazon is calling the plan "Upskilling 2025." Workers could use the training to transfer between positions that, without the training, they might not have been qualified for.
For example, warehouse workers in fulfillment centers could be trained for technical roles in IT and nontechnical workers could be retrained as software engineers, even if they have limited technical background.
Another training initiative, Amazon Apprenticeship, offers paid intensive classroom training and on-the-job apprenticeships within the company. Amazon is also emphasizing its growing cloud business with a training program that helps employees operate in the booming tech business.
"While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations," said Beth Galetti, Amazon's head of HR, in a prepared statement. "We think it's important to invest in our employees, and to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves."
Amazon's initiative comes as robots and artificial intelligence are advancing and more capable of replacing human jobs.
Machines are expected to displace about 20 million manufacturing jobs across the world over the next decade, according to a recent report from Oxford Economics, a global forecasting and quantitative analysis firm. That amounts to 8.5% of the global manufacturing workforce being displaced by robots.
Amazon is also fighting for employees during one of the tightest labor markets. Upskilling 2025 could help attract more employees because of future opportunities they might not have been previously qualified for. The training also helps Amazon retain workers.
Some of the fastest-growing jobs are in skilled areas Amazon is training for, including software developers, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"Through its Upskilling 2025 pledge, Amazon is focused on creating pathways to careers in areas that will continue growing in years to come, including healthcare, machine learning, manufacturing, robotics, computer science, cloud computing, and more," the company said in a statement.
The company is also dealing growing internal displeasure among from some fulfillment workers.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the news Thursday.
Recently, the company's plan to spend $800 million to speed up deliveries for Prime members sparked tension between the company and the leader of a major workers' union. They said the new shipping initiative could be dangers for workers and are struggling to keep up with demand.
Amazon was also criticized last April after it revealed the median pay for its global workforce, including part-timers, was $28,446 in 2017. The company said in October that it would raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour for US employees.