Amazon’s recent decision to launch an in-house post-secondary training program for its workforce is getting major attention from both the business and education worlds. In July, the company announced it will spend $700 million over six years to retrain 100,00 of its employees—one-third of its U.S. workforce—for jobs both within the company and beyond.
“The retail giant’s decision to expand its own post-secondary training and credential programs, largely outside traditional higher education, also is a shot across the bow for colleges and universities,” according to Inside Higher Ed.
Amazon’s decision was driven by a tight labor market and by the pressures of rapidly increasing automation. According to techcrunch.com, the company
has its eye on job roles like data mapping specialist, data scientist, solutions architect and business analyst, as well as logistics coordinator, process improvement manager and transportation specialist…. Based on a review of its workforce and U.S. hiring, these are the fastest-growing highly skilled jobs over the past five years.
For example, data mapping specialists have seen job growth of 832% in the past five years, based on Amazon’s own data, while data scientist jobs grew 505%, solutions architect grew 454%, security engineer jobs grew 229% and business analyst jobs grew 400%. Meanwhile, the highly skilled job roles in customer fulfillment have grown by 400%.
Amazon’s new program will focus on training both its employees who already have technical backgrounds and those who do not.
According to one expert interviewed by Inside Higher Ed—Jim Fong, chief research officer for the University Professional and Continuing Education Association—
resistance by many colleges to adapt to the economy and evolving education and training needs may be a reason why Amazon is building its own credential infrastructure….
“The message is really more about core competencies and who can do it better, cheaper and faster and whether colleges and universities can do that anymore,” [Fong said]. But [he] added that the Amazon news “might be the shot in the arm that higher education may need to accelerate what may be a slow and bureaucratic process regarding content and credentials needed in the marketplace.”
Inside Higher Ed adds that
Other major tech corporations have joined Amazon in creating their own post-secondary pathways, perhaps notably Google and IBM. For example, Google last year created a subsidized online IT support certificate program, which has enrolled 75,000 students. The tech corporations create the content for these programs, determine the required competencies for students to master and say they are seeking to create standardized skill sets that apply beyond their payrolls, for job seekers across entire occupational fields.
Amazon’s recently created post-secondary training and credential providers include
Amazon Technical Academy, which seeks to help technical employees of the company get the skills needed to transition to software engineering careers. Likewise, Associate2Tech is aimed at its distribution center employees, with a goal of helping them move into technical roles within the company’s operations center, regardless of their IT experience.
The company also is expanding its recently created Machine Learning University, which is designed for employees with backgrounds in technology and coding to gain skills in machine learning. The provider features more than 30 self-paced digital courses that are offered over six-week modules, includes a certification in machine learning…and is taught by roughly 400 Amazon machine learning scientists.
Both Google and Amazon are working to some extent with community colleges to offer credit-bearing versions of their content and credential programs. For example, more than 25 community colleges have worked with Google to offer the IT certificate.
Inside Higher Ed reports that, in 2018, the non-profit Jobs for the Future (JFF)
hosted a meeting between Amazon officials and community college presidents to discuss the expansion of the company’s Career Choice prepaid tuition program, which pays 95 percent of tuition and fees for a certificate program in high-demand fields, including transportation, health care, mechanical and skilled trades, and IT and computer science.
Amazon [is] interested in collaborating with the two-year colleges at more of a system-like level, [said Kathy Mannes of JFF], rather than on one-off partnerships.
As major employers like Amazon and Google increasingly create their own education and training programs, how are traditional post-secondary institutions to respond? The key to staying relevant, according to experts interviewed by Inside Higher Ed, is for traditional colleges to “try to keep up with the demand for training on tech tools from the big companies.”
There’s plenty of space for traditional higher education even as credentialing choices expand, Jason Tyszko, vice president of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber Foundation, told Inside Higher Ed. “A lot of the higher education partners are going to benefit from this,” he said. “It’s higher ed’s opportunity to lose.”