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Amazon retraining workforce; half of Americans will need to soon

One of America’s largest tech titans is taking a new shape, and it’s a harbinger of retraining to come.

Amazon is slated to spend $700 million to retrain some 100,000 workers by 2025 in light of technology shifts, reports Chip Cutter for the Wall Street Journal.

The $7,000-per-employee initiative is voluntary for participants, Cutter adds, and the goal is to help employees move into new roles within or outside of the company, like fulfilment center workers retraining for IT support, or nontechnical corporate workers gaining technical skills.

This places Amazon as something of a first mover among large firms taking on large-scale retraining. Trendline suggests it’s a theme that will be increasingly urgent. A recent report from the hiring platform ZipRecruiter estimates that nearly 50% of all workers in the US could be displaced or forced to change jobs by 2030, largely driven by artificial intelligence and automation.

ZipRecruiter aggregated the tens of millions of online job postings and candidate applications within its online employment marketplace to identify trends like how many new jobs were created with the addition of AI in 2018.

It looks like Jeff Bezos and company are trying to get Amazon ahead of that curve.

The bigger picture: For the moment, AI is creating more jobs than it takes away, but this may not last for long.

ZipRecruiter data scientists point out that, so far, the most successful applications of AI resulted from partnering with human work more than replacing it. According to their report, AI actually created three times more jobs than it removed in 2018.

However, the report also highlights the three stages of AI development and shows that the technology is still at a preliminary stage. This “assisted” stage involves automating repetitive office tasks. The next stage, which we’re currently entering, is augmented intelligence, in which AI systems use decision-making abilities to bolster human productivity. From 2030 and beyond, machines are projected to make decisions on their own with some degree of emotional intelligence.

The human partnership work that AI has performed so far reflects the assisted and augmented intelligence sides of the technology.

What to look out for: Some industries are impacted by AI more than others, but workers across industries are wary of the changes it could bring.

For now, the ZipRecruiter report states that over half of the work we do could be automated, and by 2030 44% of all US workers could be impacted by automation, with 30% displaced, and 14% faced with a career change.

Construction workers were the least likely to fear unemployment caused by AI, but employees in the warehouse (32%), finance and insurance (27%), and accommodation and food services (26%) industries expressed the most concern. Amazon, with its massive warehouse infrastructure, would in turn be particularly vulnerable. Per Cutter, it has around 275,000 full-timers in the US, with over 600,000 total employees worldwide.

The ZipRecruiter report states most employers (81%) would prefer hiring a human over putting an autonomous system in place, but that might change as AI grows more sophisticated. Employers have to consider improving training programs for existing employees, and future employees have to carefully consider which skills they choose to acquire.

Even though AI hasn’t wholly disrupted the job market, this report and this one and others, indicate that it’s only a matter of time.

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About Jason Doughty

Jason M. Doughty writes for Investing and Strategy sections in AmericaRichest.

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