Amazon apprenticeships: education, beyond the classroom
Amazon has recently extended the range of its paid apprenticeship schemes both in its corporate and operations areas: 10 different programmes are now available in the UK, four of them specifically designed for Amazon employees. The schemes will allow participants to acquire professional experience and key competences to further their careers, and to apply for permanent positions at Amazon at the end of their journey. A typical apprenticeship combines theoretical learning with hands-on training, enabling participants to obtain qualifications and degrees – and to earn money in the process. At present, over 330 apprentices are working and learning at Amazon all over the UK.
Nicola: pursuing a dream career in engineering
Growing up, Nicola Elliott dreamt of becoming an engineer: “I have always been interested in technology, I liked fixing things,” she says. However, the 27-year-old, originally from Northern Ireland, initially chose not to pursue her passion. “I didn’t think it was possible. I had never met a fully qualified female engineer in my life. In the end, I started studying to become a nurse,” she recalls. After a few months, however, a bout of illness forced her to take a break and reconsider her options. “I told myself: if I have to get sick doing something that doesn’t engage me, I might as well try and do something I really like.” Looking for alternatives, she discovered Amazon’s Automation Engineering Degree apprenticeship on a website dedicated to women in engineering. It was a chance to fulfil her dream.
Now in her second year of apprenticeship, Nicola is working the Amazon fulfilment centre (FC) in Bolton. Her four-year scheme offers a blended approach of classroom training and on-the-field practice, culminating in the achievement of an engineering degree alongside a number of academic and vocational qualifications. “I spent my first year studying full-time in Manchester. Courses, accommodation, travel – everything was paid for by Amazon,” she explains. “In my second year, I get to work in the FC, putting into practice everything I have learnt so far. My typical day includes shadowing other automation engineers and doing research for my own projects. Our role is to design and implement automated systems to help deliver customer orders in a faster and better way: the scale of the operations is something that never ceases to surprise me!”
At the end of her apprenticeship, Nicola’s plan is to apply for a permanent position at Amazon. She wouldn’t mind working abroad for a while: “But first, I want to get my motorbike license,” she says. She is an active promoter of the apprenticeship scheme: she hopes that her experience will help more girls undertake a career in engineering.
Jake: a gateway into the corporate world
Jake Peters, 23, is an Infrastructure Technician apprentice. “At university I studied digital film production,” he says. “As a young graduate, my plan was to work as a freelancer, moving from one creative project to the next and leaving my mark in the industry. Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly how things turned out: the market is extremely competitive, it’s hard to find good jobs. I soon realised that the freelance life was not for me,” he says. Looking for a more sustainable lifestyle and an occupation that could pay the bills, Jake turned to another passion of his, IT. “I had always enjoyed working with computers. All I needed was to find a way to further develop my skills,” he explains. “I figured that an apprenticeship could give me a head start on the job market.”
In Jake’s words, Amazon was “the place to be for tech-minded people”. He successfully applied for a 3-year apprenticeship scheme in the global IT department of the Amazon corporate office in London. Nine months in, he has fully settled in: “We provide IT support in the building, but I also work on networking infrastructure projects. I get to take ownership of my own projects: if I spot a process that can be improved, I can take the lead on it. Learning about Amazon’s corporate culture has helped me stretch all sorts of mental muscles: project management, team work, even peer coaching,” he explains. “Every week, I allocate myself one day to study and develop my portfolio. I attend external courses on scripting, coding, cloud computing, which have allowed me to obtain certifications that are recognised worldwide. And the best part – I get paid for it!”
Jake is satisfied with his choice: “There are many ways to achieve a perfect education. Classroom learning is only one of them,” he says. “For me, this apprenticeship has been a godsend. I feel like I have learnt more in three months here than in three years at university.” He particularly appreciates the flexibility provided by the scheme: “If there is a specific topic I want to learn more about, all I have to do is talk to my manager. He will help me find a mentor or a project to work on. You get to shape your own path: it’s ultimately up to you to get the most out of your experience here.”
Kirsty: embracing change, building a new career path
Kirsty Mallinder is a person who doesn’t fear change. “I guess I’m not your typical apprentice,” she smiles. For her, Amazon represented a new professional beginning: “After starting my career as a graphic designer, I became a certified personal trainer and martial arts instructor,” she explains. “Then an injury and a new relationship prompted me to reconsider my plans. I left London, moved to Manchester and found a job in an Amazon FC. Eventually, my relationship didn’t work out, but the job did – I loved it. And I decided to stay.”
Kirsty’s experience at Amazon began as an associate in the multipack area, but soon her curious nature pushed her to look for opportunities to learn and advance in her career. Her manager encouraged her to apply for a Business Improvement Techniques apprenticeship: “The two-year scheme is designed to give you the tools, techniques and certifications to become a team lead,” she explains. Joining the programme has had an immediate impact on her mind set: “I try to apply what I learn in my everyday work. I ask myself: ‘If I were a team lead, how would I handle this?’. It has changed my way of looking at things.”
“I love the interactive approach: we spend time in the classroom, then on the floor to identify improvement areas in our processes, and finally we work on group projects as a team. For me, this is the best way to learn.” In the meanwhile, Kirsty has found her true vocation in the Health and Safety department. She has taken on a Safety Coordinator role and she has been offered the opportunity to transition to a new Safety, Health and Environment Technician apprenticeship scheme. “This will help me become a Safety Specialist, the next step in my career path. In short, I’m doing something that will help me further my career. What’s not to love?”