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Amazon Leans on Technology to Speed Training of Holiday Workers

Amazon.com Inc. wants its warehouse employees to get to work—fast.

To prepare for the flood of holiday orders already under way, the retail giant has been using technology ranging from touch screens to robots to shrink the time it takes to train new hires to as little as two days, compared with up to six weeks for a conventional warehouse job.

The shorter training period saves Amazon money, and could give the company room to offer higher wages as it seeks to expand its workforce about 40% by adding 120,000 temporary workers at its U.S. warehouses for the peak sales season that runs roughly from November through December.

Complicating that task is the tight labor market, which is forcing Amazon to slug it out with rivals like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and package-delivery companies like United Parcel Service Inc. as they all try to staff up for the holidays.

“They’re fighting over the same labor pool,” said Tom Bianculli, chief technology officer at Zebra Technologies Corp., which works with retailers.

The outcome is particularly critical for Amazon, which owns one of the world’s biggest networks of warehouses and needs a host of seasonal workers to keep them chugging along.

Rapid turnover, along with low unemployment and recent pay gains for the nation’s lowest-wage workers, have forced Amazon to get nimbler to attract seasonal help, in part by making training fast, easy and flexible for its recruits, who typically make more than minimum wage. At Amazon and other warehouse operators, these types of workers can stay on from six weeks to three months into the New Year to drive forklifts, pick orders or deliver boxes.

Amazon also is quickly increasing the number of full-time staff it employs. It retained about 14% of its seasonal hires last year, in part by offering perks such as prepaid tuition for warehouse workers who remain on the job for at least a year.

Though worker...


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