Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Amazon’s amazing workplace learning project

The big tech companies have been battered by accusations of duplicity around tax and working conditions at the bottom of their long, food chains and rightly so. The ‘do no evil’ value statements are now tightly managed PR statements that are closer to ‘we speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil’. The damage they do through tax evasion is huge. It was good to see, therefore, that Amazon were doing something beyond the usual ‘play at work’ Silicon Valley faddish schemes that turn the workplace into a playroom.
Career Choice
Bezos has implemented ‘Career Choice’, around the world, in fulfilment centres, since 2012.  They have built classrooms, with online access, in the warehouses, in mainstream areas, to be seen behind a huge floor to ceiling glass wall, so that other workers can get the message. The point is to stimulate learning and action. Beyond the learning is a clear goal; not to trap people into doing jobs they don’t enjoy but to give them a choice. This Bezos thinks, is good for employees and good for the company.
Vocational courses
This is about  ‘vocational’ learning, while you are at work. It feeds you into internal jobs, if available, but also into the open jobs market.  The clever bit of the scheme is the starting point – job statistics. This is all about demand statistics. Amazon do not pay for courses where there is no proven demand profile for jobs with proven salary hikes. They have a list.
You study for qualifications up to Level 5 Foundation degree level in subjects such as Engineering, Aircraft Mechanic, Information Technology, Computer Science, Mechanical and Electrical Trades, Health and Social Care, Construction, Transportation & Logistics, and Accounting, all done with local colleges. Indeed, the local colleges play a critical role in delivery. 7000 people have been through the scheme so far.
Who pays? Amazon do. They will reimburse learners £2000 a year for up to 4 years (up to £8000). You only pay 5%. This is NOT about University degrees or graduate qualifications. It’s far more important than this.

This seems like a good private/public partnership. It taps into an existing pool of employees, raises their aspirations and delivers them real qualifications and real jobs. It is these hybrid schemes that will make the apprenticeship programmes work. For too long, learning has been disengaged from business and business disengaged from learning. This is just one of many possible solutions.

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