The US arm of Amazon has taken over its homepage today with a long letter advertising a new program where if you work in their warehouses, and stay with the company for three years – including possbily living in a caravan to work over Christmas – they will pre-pay "95% of the cost of courses such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies, nursing, and many other fields."
They call it the "career choice program". It's not much from their pocket, since they're actually only offering to pay up to 95 per cent of the cost. They've capped the amount they will give any individual student at $2000 per year for up to four years, and frankly, given so much of Amazon's workforce is seasonal, the number of employees who will actually stay long enough to qualify is likely to be low.
And the caravan thing is for real, although not explicitly linked to the career choice program:
Our seasonal recruiting program called CamperForce – where RVers combine work with camping – has been very successful and much written about in the media.
The move is quite clearly far more PR than genuine offer to low-skilled employees, right down to being posted on the front page of the site – somewhere more often frequented by potential customers than potential employees. It is certainly the case that, when it comes to treatment of their employees, the company could do with some good PR. The last time their warehouses hit the news, beyond puff pieces about the Christmas shopping boom, was the Morning Call's expose of conditions inside the Pennsylvania branch:
"They can get away with it because most workers will take whatever they can get with jobs few and far between," said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers. "The temp worker is less likely to complain about it and less likely to push for their labor rights because they feel like they don't have much pull or sway with the worksite employer."
Amazon warehouse workers interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds, including construction, small business owners and some with years of experience at other warehouse and shipping operations. Several of them said it was their worst work experience ever.
Amazon's offer doesn't seem quite so enticing set in context.