How Amazon wins the war for talent

Along with building out an unparalleled network, Amazon is investing in associates to win the war for talent

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Here's a fact for you: At present, Amazon employs more than 400,000 full and part-time associates worldwide across a network of 110 North American and another 75 around the globe. So, given that the shortage of logistics workers is a top topic at every industry event I attend, just what is Amazon doing to win the war on talent, given the scale of its operations.

That's a question I posed to spokesperson Todd Walker at the end of our recent tour of Amazon's highly-automated robotic fulfillment center in North Haven, Connecticut. The short answer is that Amazon is investing in pay, benefits and career opportunities for its fulfillment center workers much in the same way that it is investing in technology and automation. And for the same reason: “It all goes back to the customer experience,” Walker said. “It determines every move we make.”

During a tour of a robotics center, it's easy to focus on the thousands of robots shuttling product to goods-to-person workstations, and forget that the facility also employs a small army of associates: In Connecticut, there are 2,500 full time associates at North Haven and another 1,500 at the Windsor facility just 50 miles away. That's not counting the associates at the other 3 Connecticut logistics hubs. Add them all up, and you could populate your average New England town with just the Amazon warehouse associates working in Connecticut.

So, what are they doing? I think it can put it in two buckets: Recruitment and retention.

On the recruitment side, Amazon offers a $15 starting minimum wage and full medical, vision and dental insurance right out of the gate, according to Walker, and as much as a 50% match on 401(k) contributions. In the Northeast, where I live, that $15 minimum may be going up: Just the other night I saw a Walmart television ad offering a starting pay of $18 an hour for DC associates in New Hampshire, where we have one of the lower unemployment rates in the country.

On the retention side, the company offers up to 20 weeks of maternal and paternal paid leave, with other programs to “give new parents flexibility with their growing families.” That’s more generous than many white collar new parent leave benefits.

For those employees who are interested, Amazon offers a career path for floor associates. I noticed signs in the North Haven facility referencing mentors. Earlier, Walker mentioned that new employees work with mentors who train them for their positions. Aspiring employees apply for the mentorship program. Amazon will pre-pay up to 95% of tuition for courses in areas like game design, visual communications, nursing, IT programming and radiology, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to Amazon. The company has also pledged to invest over $700 million “to provide upskilling training for 100,000 U.S. employees for in demand jobs” to aid employees who want to advance into skilled positioned at Amazon, or outside. “There are literally 1,000's of opportunities within the company,” Walker said.

Like the overall network, Amazon's talent strategy is another of those factors that makes Amazon Amazon, and can't easily be replicated by most organizations.

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About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, MMH Executive Editor and SCMR contributor
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Bob Trebilcock is the editorial director for Modern Materials Handling and an editorial advisor to Supply Chain Management Review. He has covered materials handling, technology, logistics, and supply chain topics for nearly 40 years. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at 603-852-8976.

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