Why Amazon CEO pays for his staff to train as airline mechanics

Correspondence between CEO Jeff Bezos and his investors gives a sneak peek at the global online retail giant's surprising training policies.

If you paid 95% of an employee’s fees for an educational course of their choice, only to have them leave, would you be upset?

At Amazon, it’s just par for the course, CEO Jeff Bezos revealed in a public letter to shareholders. In divulging employee management strategies, he mentioned a tactic called ‘Career Choice’.

“[W]e pre-pay 95% of tuition for our employees to take courses for in-demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon,” wrote Bezos. The goal, he said, is to enable choice.

“We know that for some of our fulfillment center employees, Amazon will be a career. For others, Amazon might be a stepping stone on the way to a job somewhere else – a job that may require new skills. If the right training can make the difference, we want to help.”

He also revealed that sub-company Zappos’ notorious method of offering employees bonuses to quit has been expanded throughout Amazon fulfillment centers. Where Zappos offers new hires to take US$4,000 to walk away if they don’t love their job, Amazon has tweaked the policy to offer associates a quitting bonus every year. The first year, workers are offered US$2,000, and the offer is raised annually until it reaches US$5,000.

“We hope they don’t take the offer; we want them to stay,” wrote Bezos. “Why do we make this offer? The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”

Bezos also pointed to a flexible working policy whereby employees in more than ten states work from home, providing customers with virtual customer service from the comfort of their own domains.

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