Amazon’s Homepage Splashes Big News (For a Small Audience)

Amazon has taken over its own homepage this morning with a letter from founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, but it’s not to announce a fancy new Kindle Fire or the much-rumored Amazon phone.

Rather, it is alerting customers to a tuition-reimbursement program for full-time hourly employees working at the company’s many fulfillment centers.

By making such a big splash about the program, Amazon clearly wants to assist with its recruiting efforts as it gets big fast. Additionally, the program may give customers a warm and fuzzy feeling about shopping at Amazon.

The Amazon Career Choice program, as it’s called, will pay up to 95 percent of tuition, textbooks and associated fees, up to a maximum of $2,000 a year for four years.

In a letter posted prominently at the top of the site, Bezos calls it “unusual,” because Amazon isn’t willing to pay for just any education.

Instead, it will pay exclusively for study in areas that are well-paying and in high demand, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technology, medical laboratory science and dental hygiene. And it will fund those areas regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.

“Many of our fulfillment center employees will choose to build their careers at Amazon. For others, a job at Amazon might be a step towards a career in another field. We want to make it easier for employees to make that choice and pursue their aspirations,” Bezos writes.

In the past, Amazon has defended its worker safety record after reports cropped up of unsafe working conditions in its warehouses. It reiterated its claims today that it is safer to work in an Amazon fulfillment center than it is in a traditional department store.

In 2010, the company added 13 fulfillment centers, and last year it added nine more. As of November 2011, Amazon had 15,000 full-time workers in its order-fulfillment centers, according to the Associated Press, but it is unclear how many of those employees are paid hourly.

At the end of the letter, Bezos made no long-term commitments to the program. As with many of Amazon’s innovations, this “is an experiment,” he said.


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