Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series of stories on the impacts of Amazon’s rapid growth in Florida, covering effects on real estate, small businesses, the job market, politics and more.
TALLAHASSEE – Trying to secure an endless workforce for its Florida expansion, Amazon is pushing free education as an employee perk.
Potential workers are even targeted at the high school level. The e-commerce giant, for example, is building a new fulfillment center in Tallahassee and participated in the Leon Works Expo last month.
From business and IT, creative, health and trade jobs, the expo showcases a variety of careers to mostly high school juniors, along with some seniors.
“Just like all of our other vendors, they’re there to show, ‘Hey, this is a career opportunity for you to consider,’” said Cristina Paredes, director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality, which is co-sponsoring the expo.
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As the USA TODAY Network – Florida reported in March, Amazon has made little secret of its plans for an aggressive expansion in the Sunshine State. From Tallahassee to Lakeland to West Palm Beach, the company has been building fulfillment centers and other facilities at a good clip. And they need workers – from drivers to warehouse employees to engineers – to fill jobs.
Scholarships offered to high school students pursuing STEM
Amazon is leaving few stones unturned to meet that demand. For example, an outreach effort called Amazon Future Engineer offers $40,000 scholarships to 250 high school seniors from underserved communities who are planning to pursue a STEM education in college.
Last month, Brett Freedman, a student from Martin County High School in Stuart, and Keanu Brayman, a home-schooled student from Boca Raton, each won one of the coveted scholarships, that, according to the company, includes not only the $40,000 to study computer science at a university of their choosing but a paid internship at Amazon after their freshman year of college.
The company also offers technical apprenticeships geared toward members of the military community, such as veterans and spouses, to transition to cloud-computing careers, according to Amazon spokesman Owen Torres.
“We’re always looking to grow our team and welcome new people to the company, and we’re proud to be an employer of choice for students who often join Amazon for our industry-leading benefits and advancement opportunities,” Torres said.
With more than 59,000 employees in Florida, Torres said the workforce represents a variety of backgrounds and with varying levels of experience and education.
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Full-tuition partnership with Florida colleges
Last year, Amazon launched its Career Choice program at the collegiate level.
The fledgling national effort provides employees with a full-tuition ride through partnerships with nine universities and educational institutions in Florida – including the University of Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville.
Cedrick Gibson, associate vice president of workforce development and entrepreneurship at Florida State College, said numerous opportunities are available for employment for students who’ve had at least some college education, whether it’s a certificate, a technical certificate or a two-year degree.
“So our hope is that this collaboration and partnership with Amazon will allow us to tap into a pipeline of potential students that we currently are not reaching,” Gibson said.
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In order to participate, an Amazon employee must first notify the company and then enroll in an approved program. Gibson said the school has hosted virtual career fairs to shed more light on the school’s educational programs.
To date, Gibson said 150 potential students have been identified for the school’s enrollment and Career Choice program.
“When you start to think about any one company and how many employees we engage (with), that is a relatively large number,” Gibson said.
Amazon asked the University of Florida in Gainesville to participate in the Career Choice program, said Evangeline Cummings, associate provost and director of UF Online.
Cummings said Amazon indicated its intent to issue a Request For Proposals (RFP) and wanted to work directly with universities with “great online programs to become providers for the Amazon workforce.”
Indeed, other Florida universities and state colleges have also become regional partners with Amazon’s Career Choice program.
Cummings said Amazon’s program allows hourly workers to clear the hurdle of tuition costs.
“We know that especially in Florida, there are about 3 million Floridians with some college credit but no degree,” Cummings said. “They’re working adults, most likely caregivers; the cost of college is a real barrier.”
Contact TaMaryn Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Amazon offers Florida high school and college students work incentives