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.
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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.
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Though worker training is a year-round challenge for Amazon, one of its priorities for the fourth quarter is, “what is the technology that can set an employee up as efficiently and as safely as possible?” said John Olsen,Amazon’s vice president of human resources, world-wide operations. Amazon says its holiday sales this season could increase as much as 27% from last year to a high-end range of $45.5 billion.
This year alone, Amazon has built 26 new warehouses, bringing its world-wide total to 149. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has added 10 new e-commerce hubs over roughly two years to its dozens of smaller e-commerce and store warehouses, along with 80 stores that ship directly to consumers. Other traditional retailers and smaller e-commerce companies might have just three or four U.S. warehouses targeting major population centers
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Amazon’s newest facilities incorporate the most automation, using screens, robots, scanners and other technology to quickly get workers up to speed, according to Mr. Olsen. Amazon trainees get hands-on training as early as their first day on the job, which he said has proven to be a huge advantage in getting them up to speed. On the warehouse floor, they learn how to pack up shipments, coached by a screen that tells them which box size to use and automatically spits out a piece of tape to fit it.
In conventional warehouses, by contrast, new employees typically spend their first days in classroom training, say supply-chain experts.
The difference may give Amazon an edge. “Employee turnover becomes a little less of a problem when the learning curve is short,” said Brian Devine, senior vice president at logistics staffing firm ProLogistix.