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July 19, 2021
Why returning to office will be 10 times harder than the transition to working from home

June 27, 2021
Windows 11: Microsoft reaffirms the importance of PCs

April 26, 2021
Looking to level up? Amazon, Google, Microsoft and more offer training programs

April 7, 2021
T-Mobile ups 5G ante with home broadband, free phone upgrades

February 27, 2021
What AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are buying up: The 5G battle between US carriers just got very interesting

February 1, 2021
Will hybrid work actually work? What companies and workers should consider in a post-pandemic world

January 14, 2021
It's a good time for PC users: 2021 innovations include fast pivot to 5G

2020 USAToday Columns

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2018 USAToday Columns

2017 USAToday Columns

2016 USAToday Columns

2015 USAToday Columns

2014 USAToday Columns
















USAToday Columns
TECHnalysis Research president Bob O'Donnell writes a regular column in the Tech section of USAToday.com and those columns are posted here. These columns are also often reposted on other sites, including MSN and other publishing partners of USAToday.


September 9, 2021
'The new minimum wage': Amazon and Intel offer employees access to training, reskilling

By Bob O'Donnell

COVID’s impact on jobs and the economy has been profound and, quite honestly, confusing. On the one hand, stories of people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic – and are now starting to lose government benefits and eviction protection – have become both commonplace and gut-wrenching.

At the same time, there are signs and postings everywhere desperately looking to hire people, from large companies to small-town restaurants. Short-staffed organizations are being forced to delay orders, adjust their hours of operation, and make many other uncomfortable changes to keep their businesses alive.

While there is no simple reason these often-conflicting trends are occurring simultaneously, one undeniable fact is that we’re witnessing a significant and rapid-paced shift in the jobs environment. In short, there’s often a gap in the skills required for a given position versus the capabilities job seekers currently have.

Recognizing this fact, both companies and employees have recently started placing significantly more focus on training, upskilling, and reskilling programs to better match employees’ skills to new job requirements. Nowhere is this impact being felt as strongly as it is in the tech industry.

Once seen solely as a place for a select set of highly educated individuals, the tech world’s profound and growing impact on society has made its importance and relevance reach into every sized town and every demographic group in the country.

Getting the tech industry workforce to accurately reflect the amazing diversity of the country, however, has not been an easy task, particularly when you dig into job categories requiring specialized skill sets.

Thankfully, numerous tech companies are deploying a wide range of different approaches to help overcome the diversity inequities that have plagued the tech industry for decades now, including several that I provide consulting services to. Leading chipmaker Intel, in conjunction with Dell Technologies, for example, recently announced a major expansion of its AI for Workforce program, which is designed to help community college students gain skills in the highly sought after and potentially very lucrative field of Artificial Intelligence.

Specifically, the program is working with 18 community college systems across 11 states (with plans to add another 50 schools in 2022) to create a curriculum built around classes in topics like data collection, computer vision, AI model training, coding, and the societal impacts and ethics of AI technology, all of which will lead to both associate degrees and certificate programs in AI.

Intel is providing the class materials to these schools for free – which traditionally have had a much larger percentage of ethnic minorities and lower income levels than four-year colleges – and is working with local community college professors to customize the programs to meet the unique needs of a given community. Dell Technologies is providing guidance on how to best configure the AI labs for various types of teaching styles, including remote and hybrid, to make the materials available to as wide a range of students as possible.

Fresh off its impressive announcement last week of its plans to hire 55,000 new employees and to host a massive job fair on Sept. 15, Amazon today announced several new training and educational initiatives. First, the company will offer fully-funded college tuition, GED and ESL support for 750,000 of its of operational employees, such as its warehouse workers, starting this January.

The offering, which is available for people who have worked as few as three months for the company, is part of its Career Choice program and includes complete support for classes, books and fees. In addition, the company is expanding its Upskilling 2025 goal from 100,000 to 300,000 employees. Finally, the company is adding three new upskilling initiatives to its range of existing, no-cost employee training initiatives.

In total, the company said it plans to spend $1.2 billion dollars on the combined efforts.

The three new reskilling and educational programs are AWS Grow Our Own Talent, Surge2IT and the User Experience Design and Research Apprenticeship.

AWS Grow Our Own Talent is designed to provide a career path for employees with non-traditional backgrounds, including those with only a high school diploma, to break into the company’s cloud computing division in roles such as data center technicians.

Surge2IT is for those with entry-level IT jobs, many of whom were hired during the pandemic as demand for the company’s services exploded, to advance to higher-level, better-paying roles through self-paced training materials.

User Experience Design and Research Apprenticeship is a year-long program with on-the-job training for people who have creative skills but not technical ones; it’s intended to lead to jobs throughout Amazon that help improve customers’ experiences with the company’s products and services.

What is interesting about many of the Amazon upskilling initiatives is that they’re targeted at groups of employees that haven’t traditionally benefited from these types of training programs.

Many companies have and continue to offer educational programs for existing skilled workers to refine or update their knowledge on new industry trends and developments, but very few have offered new paths into previously closed off job categories for entry-level workers.

Of course, given some of the negative publicity Amazon has received about challenging conditions for some of its warehouse and delivery workers, a cynic could certainly argue that these types of initiatives are little more than a PR cover for other concerns.

Having had the opportunity to chat with Amazon’s Vice President of Workplace Development, Ardine Williams, about why the company is expanding these types of upskilling programs, and what benefits the company receives from them, however, I discovered the answer was much more practical.

“When we provide opportunities for people to increase their income, we also help improve the local economy and give them more chance to spend – with some of it, hopefully, coming back to us,” she said.

Williams also talked about the role that reskilling and upskilling programs can have on a local community. “Upskilling is a team sport,” she said, “and these programs are focused on the communities where we’re located. By creating a pipeline of skilled workers, we can improve the overall economic environment, which benefits everyone.”

Another benefit to Amazon, Intel, Dell Technologies, and other tech companies driving these upskilling and reskilling initiatives is employee loyalty and retention. In an era when pandemic-driven job hopping may become increasingly common, programs like these can make a big difference.

In fact, in a new Gallup poll of 15,000 U.S. workers (sponsored by Amazon), employee-offered reskilling programs are more important to younger workers than paid vacation time. Plus, 57% of all existing workers said they were interested in participating in an upskilling program, and 48% said they would be extremely or very interested in switching to a new job if the company offered these types of programs. As Amazon’s Williams succinctly notes, “career progression is the new minimum wage.” 

The benefits to employees are obvious and practical as well. Those who participated in an upskilling program in the past year saw on average an 8.6% increase in their salary, working out to an average $8,000/year bump according to the survey results.

As with technology adoption in general, it’s clear that the pandemic has inspired a much faster transition to a tech-focused economy than anyone expected. Unfortunately, that transition has also highlighted a significant gap in both skill requirements and employee diversity that needs to be addressed.

While there’s no easy answer to either of these issues, the types and reach of the upskilling programs that major tech companies are continuing to offer are certainly good steps in the right direction.

Here’s a link to the original column: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2021/09/09/amazon-intel-among-companies-offer-employees-free-education-training/5764038001/

USA TODAY columnist Bob O'Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Amazon, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Samsung and Intel. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.