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Amazon plans $700 million retraining program for 100,000 US workers

The Upskilling 2025 program is designed to reach a third of Amazon's US workforce.

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At a Manhattan Prime Now warehouse.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Amazon on Thursday pledged to spend $700 million over the next few years to retrain 100,000 of its US workers. The Upskilling 2025 program will be one of the largest retraining initiatives any US company has undertaken and follows similar efforts by corporations such as AT&T and Accenture

The program is designed to help one-third of Amazon's current US workforce of roughly 300,000 people transition into higher skill and higher demand positions, including data mapping specialists, data scientists, business analysts and security engineers.

Upskilling 2025 appears to be an acknowledgement of rapid changes in the workplace, particularly in Amazon warehouses, where employees' tasks routinely change thanks to new robots and technologies. Several researchers now predict that millions of low-skill jobs will be wiped out by robotics and automation in the coming decade, with Amazon facing criticism for introducing a lot of this new tech.

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The effort is also happening at a time of historically low unemployment in the US: 3.7 percent in June. This has forced fast-growing companies like Amazon to figure out new ways to fill the most vital positions, in part by using the people they already employ.

Amazon continues to face persistent complaints from unions, former employees and advocacy groups that it treats its warehouse workers poorly. The Upskilling program is another benefit the company can use -- including $15 minimum wage and up to 20 weeks of paid parental leave -- to counter those claims. 

Many unions typically don't see these benefits as enough and assert that employees need better protections from being fired or overworked. Amazon employees in the US are not unionized.

As part of Upskilling 2025, Amazon is launching the Amazon Technical Academy, which will help nontechnical employees transition into software engineering roles. Associate2Tech, another new program, will help warehouse workers retrain into technical jobs, regardless of their previous IT experience.

Career Choice, a tuition program for fulfillment center workers, will expand, as will Amazon Apprenticeship, a classroom training and on-the-job apprenticeship at Amazon.