For years, I’ve been wondering when modern-day universities would become irrelevant due to digital transformation. That day may be coming near. In case you haven’t heard, Amazon recently announced that it would invest $700 million to upskill 100,000 of its own employees, in all areas of the company, in all skill levels. What’s more, they’re not sending these employees to graduate school. They’re sending them to gain skills at their own Amazon Technical Academy and Machine Learning University, allowing them to take classes, undertake apprenticeships, and gain certificates that could help them apply for new jobs elsewhere.
In today’s marketplace, Amazon realizes that every job is a technical job, and they’re not entrusting anyone else with training their employees to do it. We’re talking a third of Amazon’s workforce, upskilled to become more technical in their current position, be it marketing professional, business analyst, warehouse supervisor, or coding specialist. What does this mean for the future of work—and how will it impact the rest of us?
Breaking Down the Amazon Upskilling Investment
First, let’s break it down. The $700 million Amazon plans to invest in upskilling also includes benefits like higher minimum wage ($15), 401K, and parental leave. Even assuming that the full investment went toward training, it would equal about $7,000 per employee—not that much. This makes me wonder if the initiative is really all that exciting—or, if digital transformation will help the public realize that they’re overpaying for skills they don’t need in traditional academic institutions. Either way, it’s likely Amazon will need to keep upskilling regularly if the investment in each employee is this small.
Will There Still Be A Need for Non-technical Workers?
Amazon is clear that the training will be given to both technical and nontechnical employees, but that every job is essentially becoming more technical. Thus, yes, there will be a need for non-technical skill sets, such as soft skills like critical thinking, reasoning, leadership, and public speaking. But the way Amazon sees it, the people who have those soft skills will also need at least some technical acumen if they want to play a valuable role in the company’s development moving forward.
Is that true for all of us—even outside of Amazon? Of course it is. This is part of digital transformation. Clearly, marketing professionals in every industry today are needing to gain skills like AI and automation. Human resource specialists are having to learn to recruit using AI partners. They don’t need to understand the coding behind the technology, for instance—but they have to be capable of using it well. This is the truth of working in 2019 and beyond.
What About Companies Too Small to Start Their Own Job Training?
To me, this is one of the most interesting questions to consider. Clearly, not every company is Amazon. Not every company has their own technical or machine learning university on campus. What happens to those companies who can’t find upskilling programs in their local community, or can’t afford to provide that type of benefit to their current employees?
Truth be told, this is a time in digital transformation where the “haves” will begin to markedly separate themselves from the “have nots” and this includes not just money but the right skills and people. Who would an employee rather work for: a company that provides ongoing upskilling, free of charge, to keep their skills relevant, or a smaller company that asks them to find—and pay for—their own skill development elsewhere?
And this goes not just for companies, but for all of this in the greater workforce. Writers who have sat out of tech development, failing to use apps like Grammarly or learn to harness AI to help increase their output will find themselves making less—and accomplishing less—than their fellow technically savvy writers. Same equation works for employees in every job function. It’s about to get daunting out there, job wise, for those companies and people who haven’t yet jumped on the digital transformation skill train.
Some believe this upskilling initiative from Amazon is just a bunch of hype—a PR stunt meant to get publicity, which it has. And, as I said, $7,000 per employee isn’t an astounding investment. It could boil down to nothing more than some Powerpoint slideshows going over technical terminology … or, it could completely revolutionize their current pool of talent. The thing we do know is that the future of work is changing. It may no longer be enough to sit back and expect our employees to prepare themselves for the skills mismatch to come. Amazon is proving it isn’t willing to wait; it’s looking to preemptively fill the skills gap on its own.