Hun­dreds show up for jobs at U.S. Ama­zon ware­houses

Cape Breton Post - - Business - BY MATT O’BRIEN

Hun­dreds of peo­ple showed up Wed­nes­day for a chance to pack and ship prod­ucts to Ama­zon cus­tomers, as the e-com­merce com­pany held a gi­ant job fair at nearly a dozen U.S. ware­houses.

Though it’s com­mon for Ama­zon to ramp up its ship­ping cen­tre staff in Au­gust to pre­pare for hol­i­day shop­ping, the mag­ni­tude of the hir­ing spree un­der­scores Ama­zon’s growth when tra­di­tional re­tail­ers are clos­ing stores - and blam­ing Ama­zon for a shift to buy­ing goods on­line.

Ama­zon planned to hire thou­sands of peo­ple on the spot. Nearly 40,000 of the 50,000 pack­ing, sort­ing and ship­ping

jobs at Ama­zon will be full time. Most of them will count to­ward Ama­zon’s pre­vi­ously an­nounced goal of adding 100,000 full-time work­ers by the mid­dle of next year.

The bad news is that more peo­ple are likely to lose jobs in stores than get jobs in ware­houses, said An­thony Carnevale, direc­tor of Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s Cen­ter on Ed­u­ca­tion and the Work­force.

On the flip side, Ama­zon’s ware­house jobs pro­vide “de­cent and com­pet­i­tive” wages and could help build skills.

“In­ter­per­sonal team work, prob­lem solv­ing, crit­i­cal think­ing, all that stuff goes on in th­ese ware­houses,” Carnevale said. “They’re se­ri­ous en­try-level jobs for a lot of young peo­ple, even those who are still mak­ing their way through school.”

The com­pany is advertising start­ing wages that range from $11.50 an hour in Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee, to $13.75 an hour in Kent, Wash­ing­ton, near Ama­zon’s Seat­tle head­quar­ters. The $11.50 rate amounts to about $23,920 a year. In Wash­ing­ton state, the cur­rent min­i­mum wage is $11.50 but by 2020 this will in­crease to $13.50. By com­par­i­son, the ware­house store op­er­a­tor Costco raised its min­i­mum wage for en­try-level work­ers last year to $13 to $13.50 an hour.

Many of the job can­di­dates Wed­nes­day were look­ing to sup­ple­ment other in­come.

Rodney Huff­man, a 27-yearold per­sonal trainer, said the $13-an-hour job in Bal­ti­more

would pay enough to help cover bills while he starts his own com­pany.

“I’m look­ing to do the night shifts and then run my own com­pany dur­ing the day,” he said.

At one ware­house - Ama­zon calls them “ful­fil­ment-cen­tres” in Fall River, Mas­sachusetts, the com­pany hired 30 peo­ple on the spot in the first two hours. Ama­zon was look­ing to hire more than 200 peo­ple Wed­nes­day, adding to a work­force of about 1,500. Em­ploy­ees there fo­cus on sort­ing, la­bel­ing and ship­ping what the com­pany calls “non-sortable” items - big prod­ucts such as shov­els, surf­boards, grills, car seats - and lots of gi­ant di­a­per boxes. Other ware­houses are fo­cused on smaller prod­ucts.

While Ama­zon has at­tracted at­ten­tion for de­ploy­ing ro­bots at some of its ware­houses, ex­perts said it could take a while be­fore au­to­ma­tion be­gins to se­ri­ously bite into its grow­ing labour force.

“When it comes to dex­ter­ity, ma­chines aren’t re­ally great at it,” said Ja­son Roberts, head of global tech­nol­ogy and an­a­lyt­ics for mass re­cruiter Rand­stad Sourceright, which is not work­ing with Ama­zon on its jobs fair. “The picker-packer role is some­thing hu­mans do way bet­ter than ma­chines right now.”

Steve King, 47, a job can­di­date in Fall River, agreed: “I don’t think ro­bots are up to snuff yet. I think they will be. Hope­fully I can get in be­fore the ro­bots get that good and get above the ro­bots in ad­min­is­tra­tion or some­thing.”

AP PHOTO/ELAINE THOMP­SON

Jamie Ru­bin­stein, left, first in a line of ap­pli­cants, talks with Ama­zon worker Vanessa Chan­dler as he be­gins the re­cruit­ment process at a job fair Wed­nes­day at an Ama­zon ful­fill­ment cen­ter in Kent, Wash. Ama­zon plans to make thou­sands of job of­fers on the spot at nearly a dozen U.S. ware­houses dur­ing the re­cruit­ing event.

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