Amazon, facing tight labor market, wants to lure parents back to workforce

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Amazon, facing tight labor market, wants to lure parents back to workforce

Amazon has big plans for hiring, such as adding 150,000 workers this holiday season alone. But as its hiring goals come up against a tight U.S. labor market, the nation’s second-largest private-sector employer is rolling out a new recruitment approach: appealing to parents, especially moms, who have left the workforce during the pandemic. 

Amazon on Wednesday said it is debuting a program called Amazon FamilyFlex, which it said provides flexible scheduling to help employees balance work and home life, enabling them to manage last-minute doctor’s appointments for kids or the need to stay home if a child is sick. It’s also touting its longstanding benefits, such as pregnancy and parental leave, to convince workers to come off the sidelines. 

Employers across the nation are facing a shortage of workers caused by a complex mix of factors, ranging from earlier-than-expected retirements for baby boomers to the departure of millions of women from the workforce after the pandemic shuttered in-person schools and daycare. Amazon said its new FamilyFlex plan is designed to keep women in the workforce while also reaching out to parents still on the sidelines as the pandemic continues. 

“We know that the pandemic has had a tremendously disparate impact on women in the workplace. Depending on what data you look at, the numbers look like up to several millions of women who left the workforce or who are sitting on the sidelines,” said Ardine Williams, vice president of workforce development at Amazon. 

And a recent survey found that 3 of 4 women are thinking of leaving their jobs, she added.

“For us, as the second-largest employer in the U.S., this is really worrisome,” Williams told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Companies across industries are boosting wages and adding benefits to attract and maintain employees, with Amazon among them. In September, the retailer boosted its average starting wage to $18 an hour for 125,000 new hires in transportation and fulfillment jobs. That same month, it said it would roll out free tuition for all 750,000 of its hourly employees, a benefit offered by retail rivals such as Walmart and Target.

Despite more generous pay and benefits, the labor market remains smaller than prior to the pandemic, creating headwinds for employers both big and small. On Amazon’s conference call last week, CFO Brian Olsavsky called the labor shortage “our primary capacity constraint.”

No time for restroom

Amazon hasn’t been known as a touchy-feely employer: Earlier this year it apologized for denying that its delivery drivers sometimes have to pee in bottles because they don’t always have time to stop to use a restroom. 

But Amazon is now highlighting wages and benefits that Williams said provide “good jobs” to Americans. Competitive wages, benefits and career paths within Amazon could “encourage these folks sitting on the sidelines to return to work,” she added. 

The company said its FamilyFlex plan allows employees to keep the same schedule week-after-week, which can make it easier for planning around family schedules, while also enabling workers to swap shifts at the last minute if something comes up with their families. That option is now available to 500,000 delivery and warehouse workers, and the company said it plans to expand it to more employees. 

Amazon is also offering “Anytime Shifts,” which is a flexible option that allows some employees to pick the time and type of shift that suits their schedule. The company said it currently has about 23,000 open roles that come with that benefit. 

“The purpose of FamilyFlex is to really make it easier for women — and for parents or anyone with caregiving responsibilities — to schedule in a way that makes sense for them,” Williams said. “It’s a workforce situation that says we need to leverage all the population we have available.”