Amazon are now offering free education to their hourly-paid employees

This week on Most Clicked, we are discussing Amazon's recent venture into the education space with the offering of free education to all of their hourly-paid employees.

Hourly paid Amazon workers can now attend 180 colleges and universities for free. When Kyle first read this, he immediately went looking for Amazon’s small print i.e. “you get your education, but your soul belongs to us,” however, unbelievably, this just seems like a really good deal for the consumer. Learners can even use purpose-built classrooms inside Amazon facilities, which don’t seem to have any windows but we’ll take that over the company’s dystopian Wellness Chambres from 2021.

Nathan Monk
Hello, and welcome to this week’s Most Clicked. Every week, we take the top story from the Education Marketer newsletter and we have a bit of a chat about it so you can start your week with it. Now, this week we are talking about competitors and alternative forms of education, but specifically, some degree opportunities from the mighty Amazon. I’m joined as ever, by my good friends, Kyle and Matt. Kyle, do you want to walk us through this story then about Amazon’s offer to its employees.

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, I mean, Amazon gets a lot of flack for its employee conditions, doesn’t it? So I guess it could be viewed as their way of handling the PR fallout from that. But nonetheless, this is a good thing they’re doing right. So they are now offering free education at 180 US colleges, for hourly-paid workers. And I’m not just talking about, you know, night classes here and there, like these are full degree programmes. Unbelievable. Like, I can’t imagine how much that is costing them. And these employees, it’s not like they’ve worked there for like many years that work there in some cases for three months. So they’re clearly taking this, like, really seriously. And it came up on my radar because I’ve seen a lot of stuff like this happening in the US now. And, you know, the market for service there for higher ed’s are, well, they’re very active, shall we say, the competition is fierce, because the cost of education for one, but a lot of private providers, like Apple, you know, like Amazon, are now stepping in with their own programmes or their own take and what education can be.

And then you throw in the mix more specialist institutions that are popping up, this traditional model of going to the Ivy League college or over in the UK, we call the Russell Group, it’s starting to be chipped away. And it’s not like it’s being washed away entirely, these things are well established and it’s going to take many years for that to shift. But you begin to see some real compelling challengers offering a new way to learn. And I just thought I’m seeing these stories more now. So as with most things, they gain momentum over a number of years. And before you know it, you know, the market looks very different. And I do generally feel within the next 5 to 10 years, you see an emergence of a very new kind of education closely aligned to corporations yes, but also very niche providers providing good, very high-quality digital education and I know, Nath, you have a few people you’ve seen in this space, didn’t you? So yeah, share some of that.

Nathan Monk
I think it’s I was quite surprised, actually, that Amazon didn’t come out with their own degree, that seems to be the thing that some of the big tech companies have been doing. I know Google have their own, I don’t know whether they are degrees, but they’re definitely like, they’ve got their own suite of something going on. And they’re like accredited now or something like that. I’d need to fact check myself on that. But I’m surprised that Amazon didn’t just. I know you say oh, it must be costing them a fortune. I mean, Jeff’s got the money. He got so much cash at his disposal. Like I imagine it’s nothing. I just, he could have probably bought a university. Why didn’t you just make a university? These are all the questions that I’m like ah.

Kyle Campbell
Well, he has classrooms in his facilities that are all Amazon-branded, so you can study for another university in an Amazon warehouse. But your point to Google, you’re right. And they do have their own programmes. So they’re shorter courses. I think they range from like four. Again, I might need to fact check myself on this. But I think that about four to eight months. And Google’s position is like saying, yeah, these are about as valuable as a degree from MIT, you know, you should just do this. And that seems to be working as a lot of people taking those programmes.

Screenshot 2022 03 24 at 10.06.04 Amazon,education

Matt Lees
Did you have any insight on uptake of that at Amazon Kyle is it is it a fairly new thing that they’ve bought in?

Kyle Campbell
It is fairly new, but they have recently expanded it. So they don’t tend to expand these things unless they’ve been taken up. And it’s not just a slight expansion, I think we’re talking like moving from 20 affiliate partnered colleges to 180. So they’ve clearly seen some sort of value in this and I guess for them, I guess it’s about retention of staff. I can imagine their churn rate is high?

But it seems the opposite. It seems like Amazon going, yeah, you can get a better job.

Matt Lees
Empowering people.

Nathan Monk
Yeah, empowering people, it feels because I remember, I use Amazon Web Services, like a lot, and read some in horrific recently. it was something like, basically, Amazon’s been through the entire population of certain countries, for AWS staff now, so much so that they’re going round to people that they hired, originally, and who have left their like rehiring, like going around the population again. And it feels like that’s the thing with Amazon, they’re so mega now that they’re employing at such a rate that they know that they’re going to lose the staff, but they’re, I don’t know, maybe this is them, trying to do some good in the community and put that back and try and as Matt says, empower people and upskill their workforce or something, I don’t know. It’s, it feels good.

Kyle Campbell
When I did and said and in my newsletter, I was like desperately searching through the fine print for like the thing that said, oh, by the way, if you do a programme of us, that’s you, you belong to us now for like 10 years, which feels very Amazon to me. But nothing like that. It genuinely seems like a good programme.

Matt Lees
So is it open-ended in terms of what you choose to study as well? Or do they kind of control that?

Kyle Campbell
There’s a range of programmes you can choose from, but the breadth is huge. And the choice 180 colleges, I mean, you can literally work anywhere in the US, and you can go to Amazon facility, and then there’s local college to you. So, again, I do feel it’s probably as much as the PR activity as it is them trying to upskill the workforce. But I imagine out of some of those employees, some will decide to stay long term with a company or move between the different departments that Amazon has with that extra layer of education, especially in the tech area.

Nathan Monk
Is it available for employees of all levels?

Kyle Campbell
Paid hourly employees so they’re targeting specific segments so for me I imagine they’re targeting warehouse staff and fulfilment centres.

Nathan Monk
Oh, I wonder genuinely whether it is like a talent thing. Because in the Amazon being so massive, I wonder whether they just can’t get enough people at like the next level up from that. And whether this is their way of preparing people, just because they’re gonna churn through people like there’s no tomorrow. I mean, it’s easy isn’t it to poke fun at them and laugh about, like, you know, you posted it, before we started talking about this, you posted the link about wellness pods, Amazon’s wellness pods that are like something off of a dystopian sci-fi like something out of blade runner or something where go in here, you will feel better in five minutes now come back work more. And that Jeff Bezos has kind of got that whole meme image of being almost a slave driver type thing. And but at the same time, this does feel good. And I think that to use your famous expression Kyle, to bring it back to HE, I think this is something that the HE sector needs to be aware of.

I think it needs to be something they’re very aware of, and perhaps almost frightened of. At Christmas in our webinar, Kyle, shameless plug, we talked about Hyper Island and how they should enter for a Heist award this year. And, you know, competitor institutions and competitor brands, I guess now. It started off as something in the distance. Now it feels like they’ve crept up and they’re right on people’s shoulders and breathing down their necks.

Kyle Campbell
The mode of education is shifting. I mean, it’s not so much a competitor, but when I’ve seen the uptake of degree apprenticeships and the interest in degree apprenticeships because I used to work on those in 2017, I think it was. And the uptake was quite niche. But now I looked at some stats recently, and I think something like 25% of Gen Z are at least considering a degree apprenticeship. Now, unfortunately, degree apprenticeships at the moment tend not to hire people who are on the younger end of the spectrum who are of university age. So, those who get degree apprenticeship don’t tend to be that 18-year-old mark. But the interest is there for a very different style of education, not just that traditional campus base one and if you throw in the mix of what’s gonna happen online over the next like five years or so, it will be interesting to see what that coin lands, but you begin to see all these different things in the mixing pot, which will come out has a very different style of education. And, you know, this is why Ed Tech seemed like a huge investment since 2020. Because there’s so much being disrupted right now. And the venture capitals there for it, although probably dry up in the next couple of years as we come off this beautiful curve.

Nathan Monk
I’ve been reading a lot of the UCAS reports recently, and the one that stuck out was the lifestyle report 2021. It talked about how prospects habits, Gen Z habits had fundamentally changed over the pandemic. And now it’s not that things like blended learning, like blended learning, is desirable in some aspects like there’s a desire for that. So habits have changed online is a thing that then people need to be aware of, I don’t know, like, it will be really interesting to see how this one plays out. I’d actually love in like maybe six months’ time or a year’s time or whatever we should make a mental note to come back to this episode and revisit and see what happens. Maybe it got swept under the carpet and it was all a magic PR exercise. Or maybe it was something more and it was that that force for good. Who knows?

Kyle Campbell
For sure.

Nathan Monk
All right. Well, thank you very much, interesting. As always, if you’ve enjoyed today’s show, drop us a like, and maybe even consider subscribing. Thanks. And we will see you next Monday. We’re live every Monday 9am GMT. See you next week.

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Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer