SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — When it was discovered that Amazon would build another sprawling robotics fulfillment center in Virginia Beach, one of the questions WAVY Facebook fans posed was: “who is going to fill these 1,000 jobs?”
Since the pandemic, industries across the spectrum have dealt with staffing shortages. The annual State of the Region report that analyzes the Hampton Roads economy, forecasted finding the right talent at the right time will continue to be a struggle for employers.
Leadership from the world’s largest e-commerce company said they have not been immune to these challenges, and say that’s why they’re no longer waiting for the talent to find them.
Last Wednesday, Amazon held the inaugural Amazon Future Engineer Robotics Camp at its gargantuan robotics fulfilment center in North Suffolk, known as ORF3 for short. Roughly 50 senior high school students from across the region spent half the day learning about partnerships being made between higher education institutions and Amazon and the latest robotics technologies Amazon is using. They were also able to see the day-to-day operations at center.
Colin Newman, director of economic and workforce development at Amazon, said Amazon knows that to get the best talent, they must invest in them early.
“It is so important for us to be reaching out to the future workforce,” Newman said. “We are meeting employees wherever they are in their education journey. Whether they are finishing their GED or English as a second language or associate’s and bachelor’s degree [Amazon] lets them explore all these options in high demand fields.”
Amazon has invested $4.9 million in CodeVA to expand access to computer science curriculum throughout Virginia K-12 schools. Newman also said they will help pay for their employees to further their studies.
Amazon has roughly 175 fulfillment centers across the country. In Virginia alone, they employ more than 36,000 people.
Newman contends jobs will grow as they invest in technology.
“We’re growing in terms of our workforce and in terms of our automation,” Newman said.
Students were able to hear from Krysten Wicks, a technical program manager with Amazon Robotics, who shared proprietary information about Amazon’s latest robot technology that helps sort the 26,000 items per floor in the 3.8 million square foot center.
She said in the future it will be vital for people to know how to interact with Robots.
“We will never be able to have robot without human interaction. It was always a give and a take. We are optimizing robotics for robots are good at. Those mundane tasks, those repetitive tasks,” Wicks said.
Amazon Future Engineer is a computer science and STEM education program that seeks to afford all young people the opportunity to explore their potential. The Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship program has provided students with a $40,000 scholarship in paid tuition to attend the college of their choice, plus an offer to complete a paid summer internship at Amazon after their freshman year. Applications for the 2023 Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship program are currently open.