Economy First Look

Amazon holds massive job fair to recruit warehouse hires

The ecommerce giant hopes to ramp up production by offering thousands of jobs on-the-spot in their warehouses across the United States on Wednesday. 

Packages prepare to be loaded onto delivery trucks at the Amazon Fulfillment center in Robbinsville Township, N.J. on Aug. 1, 2017. The company is holding a massive job fair on Aug. 2, and plans to make thousands of job offers on the spot at nearly a dozen US warehouses.
Julio Cortez/AP
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Caption
  • Matt O'Brien
    Associated Press

Amazon is holding a giant job fair Wednesday and plans to make thousands of job offers on the spot at nearly a dozen US warehouses.

Though it's common for Amazon to ramp up its shipping center staff in August to prepare for holiday shopping, the magnitude of the hiring spree underscores Amazon's growth when traditional retailers are closing stores – and blaming Amazon for a shift to buying goods online. 

Nearly 40,000 of the 50,000 packing, sorting and shipping jobs at Amazon will be full time. Most of them will count toward Amazon's previously announced goal of adding 100,000 full-time workers by the middle of next year.

The bad news is that more people are likely to lose jobs in stores than get jobs in warehouses, said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

On the flip side, Amazon's warehouse jobs provide "decent and competitive" wages and could help build skills. 

"Interpersonal team work, problem solving, critical thinking, all that stuff goes on in these warehouses," Mr. Carnevale said. "They're serious entry-level jobs for a lot of young people, even those who are still making their way through school." 

At one warehouse – Amazon calls them "fulfillment centers" – in Fall River, Mass., the company hopes to hire more than 200 people Wednesday, adding to a workforce of about 1,500. Employees there focus on sorting, labeling and shipping what the company calls "non-sortable" items – big products such as shovels, surfboards, grills, car seats – and lots of giant diaper boxes. Other warehouses are focused on smaller products.

And while Amazon has attracted attention for deploying robots at some of its warehouses, experts said it could take a while before automation begins to seriously bite into its growing labor force.

"When it comes to dexterity, machines aren't really great at it," said Jason Roberts, head of global technology and analytics for mass recruiter Randstad Sourceright, which is not working with Amazon on its jobs fair. "The picker-packer role is something humans do way better than machines right now. I don't put it past Amazon to try to do that in the future, but it's one of the hardest jobs" for machines. 

Besides Fall River, the event is taking place at Amazon shipping sites in Baltimore; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Etna, Ohio; Hebron, Ky.; Kenosha, Wis.; Kent, Wash.; Robbinsville, N.J.; Romeoville, Ill.; and Whitestown, Ind. 

The company is advertising starting wages that range from $11.50 an hour at the Tennessee location to $13.75 an hour at the Washington site, which is near Amazon's Seattle headquarters. 

Amazon is also planning to hold events for part-time positions in Oklahoma City and Buffalo, N.Y.

Amazon is "insatiable when it comes to filling jobs at warehouses," Mr. Roberts said. He said Amazon's job offers could also help drive up wages at nearby employers, including grocery stores and fast-food joints.

"It has a relatively healthy effect in the surrounding area," he said.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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