Amazon exec: Company innovation extends to program perks for employees

N.J.’s largest private employer says educational opportunities are as beneficial as high starting salary

The announcement Tuesday morning that Amazon is going to hire an additional 8,700 employees in New Jersey certainly is big news. And the fact that this latest higher surge will push the company over the 50,000-employee mark in the state is noteworthy, too.

Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global innovation, views the announcement somewhat differently. It’s not the total number of new employees that draws his attention — but the attention each new employee will receive from the company, he said.

The jobs pay between $18 and $21.50 an hour — and come with full benefits on Day One. Misener, however, points to other potential compensation pieces as a differentiator at a time when all companies are searching for new hires.

“I’m super-interested in innovation at Amazon — and we not only innovate with technology, but we also innovate with programs for our employees,” he said. “One of the coolest is Career Choice. We just recently announced that we will pay 100% of tuition for employees who seek degrees. And it can be an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or a GED to finish up high school.

“Providing those kinds of opportunities for employees goes well beyond the starting wages and the benefits that we provide.”

Misener, speaking before a Tuesday event in Carteret, said the career choice program does not have a time limit. As long as you’re a full-time Amazon employee, you can go to school for free — and do it at your own pace. Amazon, he said, will not only pay, but will pay up front. And you only have to work at the company for three months to take advantage of the program.

Misener said the program fits the commitment the company makes to its employees while they are on the job. In fact, the company is holding a career day Wednesday and Thursday for current employees and perspective employees to learn about various career opportunities at the company.

You can bet there will be plenty in New Jersey.

Amazon, which opened its first Garden State location in Robbinsville in 2013, now has approximately 60 locations throughout the state, 40 of which will be hiring (get more details here).

Misener is not directly connected to site planning and expansion in the state, but he sees no reason why the growth won’t continue.

“We want to be closer to our buyer customers and that requires us to have facilities near them,” he said. “We’re very happy corporate citizens of New Jersey, we always have been. This is just a continuation of the great relationship we have with the state as an employer, but also as a provider to the customers in this area.”

And, although Misener is directly connected to innovation, he does not see a future where innovation will lead to automation that will reverse the hiring trend. To him, technology and a human workforce go together.

“Employees have always worked side by side with technology at Amazon,” he said. “When I joined the company in late 1999, early 2000, technology seemed a little bit primitive for our operations compared to what it is today. But it was always a cooperative arrangement between employees who are aided by the technology.

“Employees are the heart of Amazon. They are what keeps us going as a company and allows us to serve customers the way we do. But they’ve always benefited from technology. That’s part of our legacy, but that’ll be our long-term history, too.”

It’s part of the one-employee-at-a-time mentality, he said.

“We want our employees to succeed and thrive at Amazon or wherever their career may take them,” he said. “I hope what you will see in the coming years is that we remain innovative on behalf of customers, but also on behalf of employees.”