Amazon is a global leader in the use of artificial intelligence and robots – but first on "CBS This Morning," the company is revealing a major plan to invest in its human workforce, too. The online giant will spend more than $700 million to provide 100,000 employees with new skills for the digital age by 2025.
At Amazon's 125,000 square foot facility just outside Denver, it looks like robots are running the show. But behind each of these roughly 800 devices is a skilled employee like Nicole Bayer, who manages the daily flow of traffic at this center as a floor control specialist.
Bayer said more robots means higher package volume. As a result, she said, "we need more associates to package our volume, not less."
Before coming to Amazon a few years ago, Bayer said she'd been out of the workforce for years. She credited the company's employee programs for relaunching her career. "I got a lot of technical skills out of it that helped me get promoted," she said.
Jeff Wilke, Amazon's worldwide consumer CEO, likened the program to grad school. The programs' names feel collegiate, from "Machine Learning University" for onsite training, to "Amazon Technical Academy" for software engineer roles. The company is also offering programs like Associate2Tech, which trains employees to move into technical roles, and AWS Training and Certification, which teaches employees about the cloud and gives them knowledge "essential to operating in a technical field."
"As technology changes work, they have the opportunity to advance in their career and take advantage of those changes," Wilke said, adding "creating great jobs means that people can have a career that's more than just the job they enter. And we think we have the responsibility to help them to acquire the skills that are going to be necessary as the world changes."
While the company has deployed about 200,000 robots, it's also added 300,000 people, Wilke said. "What's happened is… we've added more… things that require more human work and judgment in certain areas, but we can add robots to do some things that humans would just have to repeat over and over again," he said.
As technology races forward, the number of companies investing in training their current employees will climb from 54% in 2018 to 84% percent by next year, according to a ManpowerGroup study. "Digital talent now is not a luxury anymore. It's something that companies need just to survive," said New York University business professor Ari Ginsberg. Ginsberg said so-called "upskilling" programs help companies retain their employees and keep recruiting costs down.
"If you don't know how to manage technology and incorporate it… you can fall behind very quickly," he added.
As for Amazon, drones may soon be delivering your packages -- but the company says humans are here to stay.
According to a 2018 World Economic Forum jobs report, at least 54% of employees in all industries will require significant re-training and upskilling due to artificial intelligence and other automation technologies to meet future workforce needs by 2022.
"I haven't read those complaints or stories; it doesn't describe the buildings that I know or see and visit," Wilke said. "I would welcome anybody who is worried about this to come see for themselves... I think we've created terrific jobs around the world, and it's why we have no trouble hiring so many people to work in these facilities. These are great jobs."
But United Food and Commercial Workers, whose retail branch is part of the effort to unionize Amazon employees, issued a statement Thursday slamming Amazon for trying to "automate every good job out of existence, regardless of whether it's at Whole Foods, Amazon warehouses, or competing retail and grocery stores."
The statement from UFCW president Marc Perrone claimed Amazon's "ruthless business model" would lead to "massive job losses."
"Amazon is throwing money at a problem it created and somehow thinks that it deserves applause," said Perron's statement. "This is an insult to the thousands of Amazon workers who are forced to endure dangerous working conditions and meet impossible demands every day. Amazon has become an economic arsonist that suddenly decided to put out the fires it is starting."
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