The impact of COVID-19 on jobs and the economy has been profound and frankly confusing. On the one hand, stories of people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic – and are now starting to lose government benefits and evacuation protection – are commonplace and heartbreaking.
At the same time, there are signs and notices desperately looking for employees everywhere, from large corporations to small town restaurants. Small headcount companies are forced to postpone orders, adjust their operating hours, and make many other nasty changes to keep their business alive.
While there is no simple reason for these often conflicting trends to coincide, an indisputable fact is that we are witnessing a significant and rapid change in the work environment. In short, there is often a gap in the skills required for a particular position compared to the skills job seekers currently have.
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Recognizing this, both companies and employees have recently started to focus significantly more on training, education and retraining programs in order to better adapt employee skills to new professional demands. Nowhere is this influence felt as strongly as in the tech industry.
Once seen only as a place for a select group of highly skilled people, the profound and growing impact of the technology world on society has brought its importance and relevance to every major city and demographic group in the country.
However, getting the tech industry workforce to accurately reflect the amazing diversity of the country was not an easy task, especially when you dig into job categories that require specific skills.
Fortunately, many tech companies are using a wide range of different approaches to address the diversity inequalities that have plagued the tech industry for decades, including several for which I provide consulting services. For example, leading chip maker Intel recently announced, in partnership with Dell Technologies, a major expansion of its AI for Workforce program to help students at community colleges acquire skills in the coveted and potentially very lucrative field of artificial intelligence.
Specifically, the program is working with 18 community college systems in 11 states (with plans to add 50 more schools in 2022) to create a curriculum based on classes on topics such as data acquisition, computer vision, AI model training, coding and society based impacts and ethics of AI technology, all of which will lead to associate degrees and certificate programs in AI.
Amazon will begin paying tuition, books, and fees for U.S. employees starting January 2022
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Who will benefit from the training
Intel provides these schools – which traditionally have a much higher ethnic minority percentage and lower income level than four-year colleges – the teaching materials for free and works with local community college professors to tailor the programs to the specific needs of a particular community. Dell Technologies provides guidance on how to optimally configure the AI labs for various types of teaching, including remote and hybrid teaching, to make the materials available to the widest possible range of students.
After last week’s impressive announcement of hiring 55,000 new employees and hosting a huge job fair on Wednesday, Amazon announced several new training and education initiatives on Monday. First, as of January, the company will have 750,000 operational employees, such as
The offer, which is already employed by the company for three months, is part of the Career Choice program and includes the complete supervision of courses, books and fees. In addition, the company is expanding its 2025 upskilling target from 100,000 to 300,000 employees. Finally, the company is adding three new training initiatives to its range of free employee training initiatives.
In total, the company plans to spend $ 1.2 billion on the joint effort.
The three new retraining and education programs are AWS Grow Our Own Talent, Surge2IT, and User Experience Design and Research Training.
AWS Grow Our Own Talent is designed to provide career paths for employees with non-traditional backgrounds, including those with just college degrees, to enter the company’s cloud computing department in roles such as data center technicians.
Surge2IT is for those with entry level IT jobs, many of whom were hired during the pandemic when the demand for the company’s services exploded to move up to higher, better paying positions at their own pace through training materials.
User Experience Design and Research Apprenticeship is a year-long, part-time program for people with creative, but not technical, skills; It is designed to create jobs at Amazon that will help improve customers’ experiences with the company’s products and services.
The interesting thing about many of Amazon’s educational initiatives is that they are aimed at groups of employees who traditionally have not benefited from these training programs.
Many companies have and still offer training programs for existing specialists in order to refine or update their knowledge of new industry trends and developments, but very few have offered new paths into previously isolated professional groups for young professionals.
Given the negative publicity Amazon has received about the difficult conditions facing some of its warehouse and delivery workers, a cynic could certainly argue that these types of initiatives are little more than public relations cover for other concerns.
After I had the chance to speak to Ardine Williams, Amazon’s vice president of Workplace Development, about why the company is expanding these types of training programs and the benefits the company is getting from them, I found the answer was much more practical.
“By giving people opportunities to increase their incomes, we are also helping to improve the local economy and give them more opportunities to spend – some of which will hopefully come back to us,” she said.
Williams also spoke about the role retraining and continuing education programs can have for a local community. “Education is a team sport,” she said, “and these programs focus on the communities in which we are based. By building a pipeline of skilled workers, we can improve the overall economic environment, from which everyone benefits. “
Another benefit for Amazon, Intel, Dell Technologies, and other technology companies driving these education and retraining initiatives is employee loyalty and retention. At a time when pandemic job hopping is becoming more common, programs like these can make a huge difference.
In fact, in a new Gallup survey of 15,000 U.S. workers (sponsored by Amazon), employee retraining programs for younger workers are more important than paid vacation. In addition, 57% of all existing workers said they were participating in a training program and 48% said they would be very or very interested in moving to a new job if the company offered these types of programs. As Amazon’s Williams succinctly states: “Career advancement is the new minimum wage”.
The benefits for employees are obvious and practical. Those who participated in an educational program last year saw an average salary increase of 8.6%, which according to survey results rose to an average increase of $ 8,000 per year.
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As with technology adoption in general, it is clear that the pandemic has sparked a much faster transition to a technology-driven economy than anyone expected. Unfortunately, this transition has also revealed a significant gap in both skill requirements and workforce diversity that needs to be addressed.
While there is no simple answer to any of these problems, the type and scope of educational programs that large tech companies continue to offer are certainly good steps in the right direction.
USA TODAY columnist Bob O’Donnell is President and Chief Analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and advisory firm that provides strategic advisory and market research services to the technology and professional finance industries. His clients are large technology companies like Amazon, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Samsung and Intel. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.