“Offering jobs with industry-leading pay and great health care, including to entry-level and frontline employees, is even more meaningful in a time like this,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, said last month when the company reported blockbuster financial results.
Some government policies have helped Amazon’s recent growth. In March, a taxpayer-funded $2 trillion stimulus package allowed local governments to shut down traditional retail stores to reduce the spread of the virus. As the stores closed, demand for items through Amazon rose — and it hired.
Adding so many new workers so fast in a pandemic has been a herculean task. Many workers feared catching the coronavirus in warehouses, so Amazon rolled out a fleet of safety measures to address Covid-19. And it revved up its hiring machine, which relies on technology and traditional recruitment.
That includes promoting its training, benefits and pay. Of its 810,000 workers who are in the United States, about 85 percent are frontline employees in warehouses and operations who earn a minimum of $15 an hour. That is higher than traditional retail work, where an average sales worker makes $13.19 an hour, but lower than typical warehousing jobs. On Thursday, Amazon said it would pay bonuses of $300 for full-time employees and $150 for part-time employees.
To get the word out, Amazon used staffing agencies and advertised on television, billboards and in mailboxes by highlighting sign-on bonuses of up to $3,000 and its precautions against Covid-19. In one recent TV spot, an Amazon employee wearing a mask said, “Safety, safety, safety!”
In many places, the hiring has come easily because Amazon is one of the few employers with open jobs. In the week leading up to Sept. 16, which the company billed as “Career Day,” it said it received more than 384,000 job applications in the United States and Canada, or 38 a minute.
“It is happening in the context of an unprecedented loss of jobs elsewhere in the economy,” said Ellora Derenoncourt, an assistant professor at University of California, Berkeley, who has studied Amazon’s minimum wage.
Amazon is not the only beneficiary of how the pandemic has pushed people toward buying online instead of in stores. Walmart
has added 180,000 employees in the United States since March, and its online sales rose 79 percent in the latest quarter. Target’s e-commerce sales similarly soared 155 percent.
In that sense, this downturn has differed from past recessions, when usually all industries slowed, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at Indeed, the online jobs site. “This period has been partly about a recession but also about a pretty dramatic shift of economic activity from some sectors to others,” he said.
Just two years ago, Amazon’s work force numbered fewer than 650,000 people. At the time, the company hit the brakes on hiring to focus more on profits. The hiring pace picked back up a year ago, after it introduced one-day shipping in the United States, an enormous effort that required more warehouses and more workers to pick, pack and sort packages.
When the coronavirus hit the United States in March, online shopping condensed years of expansion into a few months. From April to June, Amazon said, it sold 57 percent more items than a year earlier.
That spurred its first pandemic hiring wave of about 175,000 temporary workers. Many were hired to replace employees who had taken advantage of an unlimited unpaid time off policy at the outset of the pandemic. To attract new employees, Amazon offered workers an extra $2 an hour and increased overtime pay. It said the extra wages were not “hazard pay,” but incentives.
Amazon had the hiring infrastructure in place to grow fast, said Ardine Williams, the vice president for work force development. As Covid-19 kept people like her elderly parents sheltering in place for safety, she said, consumers turned to e-commerce, accelerating the need to hire more.
“Some of that growth has clearly been planned,” she said. “I think that the head count ramp, though, has really been fueled by customer demand.”
Over the summer, Amazon converted most of the 175,000 temporary workers to permanent employees and ended the extra pay bumps for all workers. Since then, it has continued with waves of hiring.
The company has also almost tripled the number of U.S. warehouses used for last-mile deliveries this year, said Marc Wulfraat, founder of the logistics consulting firm MWPVL International, who tracks Amazon’s operations. The delivery drivers are usually contractors, so Amazon does not disclose their numbers in regulatory filings.
“They have built their own UPS in the last several years,” Mr. Wulfraat said. “This pace of change has never been seen before.”
Ms. Williams said Amazon also built relationships with companies
that were reducing staff, such as Uber, American Airlines and Marriott, to promote its hiring.
“We dedicated a group that did nothing but connect with organizations who were furloughing people, whether it was temporary or permanent,” she said. “That allowed us to take a skilled, quality work force, and very quickly and easily move them into opportunities that were appropriate at Amazon.”
The effort has been aided by 1,000 technology workers who create software for Amazon’s human resources teams, many building portals and algorithms that automate hiring, she said. Prospective employees can find jobs, apply and be hired entirely online, without talking to a single person.
To grow so much, Amazon also needs to think long term, Ms. Williams said. As a result, she said, the company was already working with preschools to establish the foundation of tech education, so that “as our hiring demand unfolds over the next 10 years, that pipeline is there and ready.”