Yesterday, the latest batch of job openings data revealed that the number of open jobs in the US had returned to record levels - with more than 10MM open job as of the end of July, the time period covered by the data. And although Biden's federal benefit gravy train has finally come to an end, it will take some time before the idle working-age population rushes back to the labor market.
Which is perhaps why some of the country's biggest employers are rolling out ever-greater benefits to try and lure back workers without raising pay (the logic, of course, is that wage hikes are typically permanent, while benefits like subsidizing education can be more easily curtailed). According to a WSJ report, Amazon has just offered workers a juicy new carrot. It will offer 750,000 workers the opportunity to enroll in a fully-paid bachelor's program at any of a number of partner universities, with Amazon picking up the tab.
The benefit will still exist for part-time workers, who can still have half of their tuition paid for.
Amazon has already hired 400K new workers since the start of the pandemic.
"Career progression is the new minimum wage," said Ardine Williams, a vice president of workforce development at Amazon, who notes employer-funded training can help people prepare for a career that interests them. "Most adult learners don’t have the luxury of quitting their jobs and going to school full-time."
And that's exactly the point. Not that many full-time workers will have the ability to pursue even a part-time education. But some will, and anyway, Wal-Mart is doing something similar, so it's time for Amazon to offer education benefits of its own to compete.
While education is an expensive and valuable commodity when it comes to social mobility, Amazon's workers will likely require other types of benefits that will make their lives easier in the here and now.
More companies are offering greater time off, more reliable scheduling and, critically, access to emergency child care. Maybe Amazon day cares will become more common at these fulfillment centers (perhaps after COVID is finally gone?).
Here's how Amazon's competitors stack up regarding educational benefits: Walmart, one of Amazon’s chief rivals, said in July it would fully subsidize college tuition and books for 1.5MM part-time and full-time employees in the US, dropping an earlier requirement that employees pay a $1 daily fee toward their education. Walmart employees can enroll during their first day on the job, and the retailing giant has expanded the number of 'educational partners'. Examples include Johnson & Wales University and the University of Arizona, among others.
Last month, Target said it would offer its 340K workers no-cost college education, including books and course fees, for a number of programs.
Restaurant chains like Chipotle and Starbucks are also stepping up their educational benefits.
Education initiatives have another bonus: they could help attract more dedicated (WSJ uses the word "aspirational") workers, who are more likely to stick around - even through hard times - because they need that tuition money.
Amazon is also offering more "upskilling" opportunities within the company.
Bottom line: For companies that are willing to "go only so far on pay", training and educational opportunities can represent another form of compensation, said Chris O’Leary, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.