Upskilling the Workforce: Key Takeaways From Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 Program


Amazon announced on July 12, 2019, that it would invest US $700 M in retraining its workers across the U.S. by 2025. Such initiatives in upskilling the workforce are critical at a time when a number of Amazon’s own processes are being automated. Can your organization also invest in initiatives that allow for upskilling in the workplace? And why should you do this? Let’s take a look.

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum stressed that we need a reskilling revolutionOpens a new window . “Valuing human capitalOpens a new window  not only serves to equip individuals with the knowledge and skills to respond to systemic shifts, it also empowers them to take part in creating a more equal, inclusive and sustainable world,” its article said.

So when Amazon announces that it is going to invest US $700 M in its upskilling programOpens a new window “Upskilling 2025” to train 100,000 workers to move into technical and non-technical roles, it makes sense.

Amazon is not the first organization to take such an initiative. Last year, AT&T announcedOpens a new window an investment of US $1 B to retrain its workers for the future.

Amazon has always been vocal about automating its warehouse operations, and this automation effort will extend to their corporate offices as well. As an employer, the company has found the sweet spot where it can spend a moderate amount on retraining an employee while enabling massive savings by automating key functions in its operations.

It is interesting to note that two days after this announcement, for Amazon’s Prime Day, the online retail giant’s workers took to protestingOpens a new window in light of their poor treatment in the company’s warehouses. One can only hope that the Upskilling 2025Opens a new window initiative may be the perfect vehicle for the company to invest more in automation, build efficiencies, cut costs, and encounter fewer people issues. However, as a result, employees will need to upskill to keep pace and retain their jobs.

When employers decide to upgrade processes and move to a more efficient workflow, they must keep in mind the employees they will replace. And Amazon seems to be doing just that.  

From the Machine Learning University (MLU) for its technical staff to the Amazon Technical Academy for its non-technical staff, Amazon seems to have everyone covered in its retraining initiative.

If Amazon can pull off its upskilling program and get a majority of its workforce to retrain for skills that will be increasingly relevant five years from now, it will be a worthwhile effort and an example to many other organizations.

Learn More: 3 Ways to Upgrade our HumanwareOpens a new window

Where Is This Interest in Upskilling the Workforce Coming From?

As organizations the world over begin to transition to automation, a lot of positions will open up, which will require skilled workers. Amazon itself has robot operatorsOpens a new window for the robots it has deployed in its warehouses. And these are skills that its current workforce did not come armed with. They have been trained to take up these jobs.

It is important to acknowledge that, however, as automation makes its way into the workplace, there will be some job loss because not all employees may be able to retrain effectively. This has always been the norm with the advent of technology, and this time around, it will not be any different.

But it is also important to note that organizations have always resorted to retraining their employees when they experience a dearth of talent.

So maybe what Amazon is doing isn’t new – but the very fact that Amazon acknowledges that there is a need for upskilling its workforce is enough for your organization to sit up and take notice as well. Because this move not only reinforces the fact that we are in a tight labor market, it also acknowledges the skills gap that will only widen if workers are not trained to work with new technologies.

Learn More: How to Develop a Winning Skills Strategy in the Fourth Industrial RevolutionOpens a new window

Key Considerations Before You Implement an Amazon-like Initiative at Your Workplace

Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 initiative offers a lot of learnings for organizations in terms of what they should do, but also what they shouldn’t. Considering this, here are a few things you should keep in mind before you begin to upskill your workforce.

1. Upskilling is a two-way street

Employees who are going to be retrained need to be made part of the discussion on any upskilling initiative you might plan. While the Union Network International, which has been helping Amazon employees worldwide, statedOpens a new window that Amazon’s initiative was a management decision and bore no inputs from workers, this is something you can and should do.

What are the current skills of your workforce? What field will they be upskilled into? Will you give them a new role in the company? Will they have to start from scratch in terms of pay for this new job?

To this, Heide Abelli, SVP of Content Product Management at SkillsoftOpens a new window Opens a new window title=”Opens a new window” target=”_blank” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> and adjunct professor at Boston College, adds, “Do workers understand the need to upgrade their skills and embrace new paths forward? Once trained, can these workers adapt and successfully apply the skills they have mastered to succeed in new roles?”

Answering these questions is the organization’s responsibility, because some employees who are being retrained may not even know what questions to ask. You will have to answer these questions for them.

And this is more important if your workforce is primarily blue-collar workers whose jobs are going to be automated.

“When employers align upskilling programs with employees’ interests and real-world needs, they are intrinsically motivated to participate and require less encouragement,” says Katie Nielson, Chief Education Officer of VoxyOpens a new window , an English Language learning platform, in a discussion with HR Technologist.

2. Everyone learns differently

That upskilling is imperative to stay in jobs is no surprise for both employees and employers.

But how are you going to train your workforce?

Create a plan that accommodates all types of learners. There are some who just cannot handle traditional classroom learning. While microlearningOpens a new window may help some, others may benefit from more visual learning through videos and a hands-on approach. For technical training, AR-enabled learningOpens a new window has been found to be particularly effective.

You will have to consider what their preferences are in terms of how they want to learn and what they want to learn.

“To encourage employees to participate in company learning programs, meeting employees where they are is key. This means providing on-demand, bite-size and interactive learning opportunities so employees can learn when and how they want, whether it’s on their commute, during a five-minute break or by listening only,” recommends Tanya Staples, VP of Content and Production for LinkedIn LearningOpens a new window , speaking exclusively with HR Technologist.

3. Professionals at all levels require retraining

There is a need for leaders to manage a dynamic, rapidly evolving workforce. It is their role to inspire learning among their team, but someone needs to take care of their learning needs too.

“Developing the right kind of leaders who are increasingly being expected to lead through complexity, ambiguity, and disruption will be critical for Amazon,” Abelli notes.

And this applies to any organization. “It is those leaders who will need to inspire, engage, and continue to develop the teams of all retrained workers,” she adds.

Learn More: What’s the Future of Training and Employee Experience? Q&A with Derek Belch of StrivrOpens a new window

This Is What Amazon’s Upskilling Initiative Is Really Saying to Organizations Worldwide

 1. It’s time to recognize that upskilling is one of the best ways to keep good talent inhouse.

2. Upskilling will create the workforce of the future for your organization.

3. Giving employees the option to retrain through upskilling programs in the workplace can make you a contributor to the global economy and give you social enterpriseOpens a new window status. This will also help you attract more quality talent.

Since Amazon is an industry leader, the success of the Upskilling 2025 initiative will pave the way for many such initiatives across other organizations. However, the announcement of the initiative can also become a catalyst to drive change in your organization, even if the change is an incremental one.

As Nielson says, “Rather than thinking about the overwhelming task of building a comprehensive Employee Upskilling Initiative, organizations can start with the most needed skills to inform employee development one employee at a time.”

The key is to begin immediately. The sooner you get started, the more relevant you will be five years from now.

What is your opinion on Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 program? Tell us on FacebookOpens a new window , LinkedInOpens a new window , or TwitterOpens a new window . We would love to hear from you!