“With apprenticeships, these days you have to be quite proactive, and you have to go out and find what you’re looking for,” said Ethan, a recent graduate of Amazon’s apprenticeship programme. His searches led him to apply for a digital marketing apprenticeship. “I did a few of the virtual interviews and tests which you do just before they get through to the final stage, did well in the assessment centre and ended up at Amazon,” he said.
“We’ve got a diverse offer for skills and jobs of the future,” said Nicola Drury, UK apprenticeship lead at Amazon. She works with the many different businesses that comprise Amazon, including Alexa, Prime Video and IMDb, to understand their current and future skills needs. Apprenticeships are the means to create that funnel of talent and skills into the business and are also a way to diversify Amazon’s workforce.
Any business in the UK that has a payroll bill of more than £3m annually pays in 0.5 per cent of that into an apprenticeship levy. “We’ve got apprentices on about 40 different schemes across the UK and Ireland,” Drury said. That is around 1,000 learners in a given year. “For anybody who’s wanting to do an apprenticeship, there’s something for everybody regardless of your background,” she said. Entry-level apprenticeships can start at GCSE equivalent; advanced apprenticeships can lead to degree-level qualifications and full-time education if that is what people want to do. “The social mobility side is great, because you can create that journey, as we’ve done,” said Drury.
Evalina joined Amazon in an entrylevel role and was encouraged by her manager to apply for the apprenticeship programme. “The first one [apprenticeship] that I started was in business improvement techniques,” she said. Evalina moved on to apprentice in team leadership and is now going into a level seven senior leadership programme as an operations manager. “The most important thing that I took away from it is the fact that you’re literally improving all of your skills and seeing the progress when working. It’s literally giving you that motivation,” she said.
“I’m also a part of The Apprentice Ambassador network for the government,” Evalina said, which entails visiting schools and talking about being an apprentice at Amazon, and hearing about how apprenticeships are a much more common route for young people.
“You’re given full responsibility, which is a perk that you don’t get in many other companies,” said Ethan, “you’re actually given the full reins to jump and be able to take control.” For him, that meant working with millions of Amazon customers across Europe using Alexa, “basically making sure that you understand how Alexa can be helpful in your day to day”, he said. That included working on big events and promotions such as Prime Day. “You’re like, ‘did I really just send this to millions of people?’ So, it’s quite nice to be able to see the impact in real time,” Ethan said.
In addition to its own apprenticeship programme, Amazon also works with combined authorities to transfer some of its apprenticeships levy to support local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to create apprenticeships. Over the next year, Amazon will fund 300 such apprenticeships, working with 250 SMEs. “So, if they [the SME] wanted to hire an apprentice, or give an opportunity to an existing employee to upskill them, and want to use an apprenticeship to do that, we can transfer some of our levy funds to them to cover those costs,” Drury said.
The specific skills needed differ from place to place, so in the West Midlands Amazon has supported apprenticeships in construction, in Greater Manchester it was digital skills, while in other localities care skills were more in demand.
For employers with a large footprint, it is an important way to play a role in supporting skills that aren’t necessarily linked to their own needs, but meet the local needs for skills and improve the local economy. “I think that’s a big call to action for other employers who have got the [apprenticeship] levy to transfer what they’re not using,” Drury said.
The apprenticeship offer is an attractive one and an increasingly competitive role, essentially being paid to study part-time while working and earning a good salary.
Employers like Amazon provide support for travel, accommodation and other costs to help apprentices who need to travel during their programme. An apprenticeship is also an opportunity to study a much wider range of skills, from engineering to software development to production. “Apprenticeships do drive a lot of benefits for both the individual and the business,” Drury said.
Ethan has finished his apprenticeship and is working at Amazon as a marketing manager, but he is exploring his options in how to progress within the organisation. “I’m getting to try some new different things just to see how I find them, whether it’s something I want to do in the future,” he said.
“I would love to stay at Amazon and potentially have a team of my own and see how I can also improve apprenticeships going forward – considering how big they are now, how we need to keep making them a route which is available to everyone,” Ethan said.