Today’s blog was first published on LinkedIn by Juan Garcia. Juan is the Global Leader for Career Advancement at Amazon.
When I spoke to business owners and HR leaders this week at the Work It Connecticut! Conference in Hartford, it marked more than three dozen times in the past six months that we have shared with audiences the details of Amazon’s innovative Career Choice program.
And as the year draws to a close, I thought it a good time to reflect on the things I have learned from sharing the peculiar aspects of our tuition assistance program with a variety of groups and companies across the country.
So, here are my five biggest takeaways from the feedback we have received. I hope companies will take these thoughts to heart when planning new programs and budgeting spending on benefits for the new year.
- Every employee could benefit from opportunities to learn and develop their skills.
No matter the jobs your employees are currently doing – dealing directly with your customers, manufacturing your products, supporting through administration or other work – every single one of them could benefit from learning new skills and progressing along their career path. I’ve spoken with those working in pest control, laboratories, hospitality, food service, retail, and many more – and a common thread is that there is opportunity for growth and learning in every industry and every role. Our newest leadership principle at Amazon is to Learn and Be Curious. We believe that every leader – from those fulfilling customer orders in Amazon’s Fulfillment Centers to members of our most senior executive team – should seek opportunities to learn, be curious, and thereby grow. For some employees, a company should work to provide those opportunities.
- Offering great benefits is not enough – companies must also break down the barriers to accessing those benefits.
Many companies offer generous tuition assistance programs. However, their participation rates are typically low. Why? Because in practice, the perk is not truly accessible. For Career Choice, we have sought to eliminate barriers. For example, we pre-pay tuition so that no associate is out-of-pocket that money, waiting for reimbursement. We also partner with community colleges and vocational schools to bring classes right on-site, in our buildings, eliminating difficulties related to transportation and scheduling. We accommodate associates’ schedules so they can attend their on-campus classes. We’re even building out a team of “advisors” to help associates find classes, remain in a program, and connect with job opportunities upon program completion. Companies ought to think through the unique challenges their employees face and eliminate those barriers.
- Don’t be afraid of employees leaving for new opportunities.
Probably the No. 1 reaction I get when describing Career Choice is: Wait – you’re enabling your associates to leave Amazon, but we’re trying to get people to stay! Yes, it’s counter-intuitive. Many associates will come to Amazon and decide to build a career here. Many more will view their time with Amazon as a temporary step along their professional journey. That’s OK. The days of working for a single company for 40 years and retiring with a gold watch are long gone; most people will have multiple employers over the course of their career. [bctt tweet=”The days of working for a single company for 40 years and retiring with a gold watch are long gone..” username=”@garciajm3D”]Our approach is to be OK with that and try to ensure that the time each associate spends with us is beneficial – hopefully helping them move in a positive direction along their career path. If we can help an associate gain new skills, we think that’s the right thing to do. We also think it will be positive in the long-term – drawing high-quality new recruits to Amazon and guaranteeing customers for life who feel positive about their time with us.
- This kind of marquee employee program does not cost as much as you might think.
Spend on Career Choice participants’ tuition represents a small percentage of Amazon’s total spend on employee benefit programs. And for that modest investment, we get the opportunity to positively impact the lives of thousands of associates. In just a few short years, more than 8,000 Amazonians have participated in Careers Choice, and hundreds have already gone on to new careers in occupations related to their chosen fields of study – nurses, IT professionals, welders, commercial truck drivers, and others. I’ve encountered many companies who rightly remark that a benefit like Career Choice appears to be more valuable than gym memberships or other perks that carry similar costs but with less impact.
- It is much easier than you think to set up a program like Career Choice for your employees. You may have heard Jeff Bezos talk about our desire to open-source Career Choice for other companies. So, we’ve put together a roadmap to help other companies implement Career Choice for their employees. And we think it can be done in under 100 days. It’s easier than you might think. And, with the New Year around the corner, it’s a good time to think about offering new opportunities for learning and career development to your employees. And if you decide to do so, we’re eager to help.