Amazon Hits the Hire Button

The e-commerce giant says it wants to fill 30,000 open jobs by early next year. Why reskilling may be a key to achieving that goal.

The numbers are intimidating to anyone trying to hire today: more than 160 million people working in the United States; 1.4 million more open jobs than unemployed people; and the lowest US unemployment rate in a half-century.

So how does Amazon plan to fill 30,000 permanent open positions by early next year?

The e-commerce leader stated earlier this week that it currently has 30,000 open jobs across the entire company in the US, among them full- and part-time roles in corporate, technology, warehousing, and other positions. While that number is staggering, experts say another figure will be the lynchpin to filling the positions: the $700 million Amazon says it will spend to reskill workers.

“That’s music to potential candidates’ ears,” says Bill Sebra, global operating executive for Korn Ferry’s professional search and recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) businesses. Sebra cites as an example a warehouse employee for a traditional brick-and-mortar retail brand that hasn’t kept up with the technological changes impacting the business. “Amazon is offering to reskill that employee on more modern supply-chain techniques,” he says. “For that person, it’s not just the possibility of a new job, it’s a game changer for their professional career.”

Hiring at the scale Amazon seeks would normally be a logistical challenge. A firm might not have enough recruiters to do the candidate vetting and interviewing, slowing the process down and frustrating both the firm and job candidates. Firms also sometimes see higher employee turnover and attrition rates in the first years after hiring en masse, says Scott Macfarlane, senior client partner global account lead in Korn Ferry’s Financial Services practice. 

But Amazon has a few advantages it can leverage. For one, Sebra says not to get hung up on the large number of open positions, as Amazon isn’t looking to hire 30,000 people in one location. To be sure, between corporate offices, warehouses, software development centers, retail locations, and other facilities, the company operates in well over 100 different areas across the country.

The Amazon brand is also obviously a huge attraction. Another factor in Amazon’s favor is that many traditional retailers have gone out of business or are in danger of doing so—in part because of Amazon—leaving large numbers of individuals with retail, warehousing, and distribution experience looking for work. Further, since many of the jobs Amazon is looking to fill involve similar skills or are part of the same job families, such as warehousing and supply-chain distribution, the company can gear up its recruiting teams for event-based or class-based hiring. For instance, it can hold an invitation-only job fair near a military base by one of its warehouses and hire veterans en masse on the same day, starting to onboard and train them all at once.

Aside from the current job market conditions, Amazon faces other challenges in filling the positions. Sebra says the time frame the company is targeting is very aggressive. The last quarter of the year is tough for hiring, he says, in part because people like to hunker down for the holidays or may be in line for an end-of-the-year bonus that they don’t want to forsake. Moreover, given Amazon’s status, the company is likely to get a flood of applicants. Identifying, assessing, processing, and onboarding 30,000 people around the country to fit into Amazon’s culture in the condensed time frame will be a Herculean task.

Or, as Sebra says, “It’s definitely going to be a big stress on the HR function.”