Amazon has pledged to offer up to £8,000 to support low-paid employees who want to go on to take further education courses. The generous monetary support will cover studies in construction, computer science, engineering and other vocational skills. Workers in Amazon’s eight giant UK warehouses that are looking to take on further education courses will earn £2,000 per year over a four year course.
The offer will be available to employees on permanent or fixed-term contracts who have at least 12 months service or longer. The scheme which was first piloted in the US, will cover 95% of a person’s tuition fees and course books and the amount will be paid in advance.
Eligible courses are those leading to nationally recognised technical and vocational qualifications such as HNDs, NVQs and BTEC diplomas and up to a Level 5 foundation degree, or Scottish equivalent. Online course work is eligible for Amazon’s program if the course is from an accredited school and in an approved area of study.
The Purpose of the Scheme
The new programme aims to make it easier for Amazon’s staff to balance the decision between staying in work and funding a further education course. Given the limitations on career advancement in a predominantly low-skilled business, the scheme seeks to empower ambitious staff to pursue other career options in another industry as well as build the job skills needed for today’s most in-demand and well-paying careers.
Roy Perticucci, Amazon’s vice president of European operations, said: "For some of our fulfilment centre employees, Amazon will be a career, for others it might be a stepping stone to a different job which may require additional training. If learning new skills can make the difference, we want to help". He also added that "It can be difficult to have the flexibility and financial resources to learn new skills or fund new qualifications. Our goal with the Career Choice Programme is to enable choice".
Is Amazon Currying Favour With Its Employees?
Meanwhile, members of the GMB union have claimed that the move is an attempt to shift the focus away from the recent labour dispute regarding employment practices across Europe and the company’s reliance on low-paid staff. In June 2013, hundreds of workers at two of Amazon’s distribution centers in Germany went on strike four times, demanding higher pay and other benefits, including paid vacation and extra overtime pay; standard perks you would find in the majority of German wage agreements.
Amazon increased its UK permanent workforce by 2,000 last year and currently employees 7,000, of which more than 80% work in its warehouses. According to the company, there are about 1,450 temporary or agency staff working for the business.
Martin Smith, the national organiser for the GMB union, welcomed the new programme and wished it could be extended to casual or day-labour workers who make the business go. However, he went to critisise Amazon saying that "Amazon is the poster child of what is wrong with the economy. There’s lots of other companies out there – I’m sure Amazon feel a bit picked on – but they are the definition of the tax-dodging, wage-dodging new economy business. On that basis, we are going to carry on focusing on Amazon as a way of ecouraging the others. I’ll sure well come to terms with them eventually, as we did with Asda Walmart".
On the whole, Amazon’s Career Choice programme aims to broaden the choices available to its full-time employees in their future careers, whether that’s at Amazon or elsewhere. It particularly seeks to develop their job skills and is seen as a valuable life-long learning resource.