Amazon kindles its relationship with the military as an exemplary employer, recognizing each individual has unique circumstances
Amazon pioneers. It pioneered a wildly successful online shopping site. It pioneered an e-reader that now has expanded to include several models. It’s a popular site from which to stream music and movies. So it’s only fitting that Amazon is pioneering a business model it hopes other companies will adopt – tapping into the military spouse and veteran population to gain stellar employees.
Amazon’s military hiring practices are organically based. Theresa Lepow, senior program manager, military talent acquisition, says,
“We had former military leaders, both seasoned and new veterans, who came to the company looking for a challenge and to grow. A lot of them were very successful. The military is a strong community and when you have a community of people at Amazon who are doing well, they want to bring their own community in for the same opportunities. The business drove the need. That’s where this program started at Amazon.”
Formalizing an idea
One of Amazon’s claims to fame is its Prime two-day free shipping. Inherently, this necessitates a great deal of planning, movement and supply chain logistics – a natural fit for veterans. “Throughout the years, our veterans have been really successful across all business units,” Lepow says. “That cultivated an environment of necessity to have a military team at Amazon that can go out and find more veterans and spouses.”
What started as a well-intentioned but casual idea to recruit a specific demographic grew into a formalized program five years ago. “Before, it was organic word of mouth, networking and referrals,” Lepow explains. “Five years ago we built a military talent acquisition network and hired a small group of fierce leaders to focus on this specific market.”
One Marine veteran ran the military program in 2011. Today, the department has grown to 16 dedicated employees separated into specialty groups, including transitioning military members, military leaders program to include specialty skillsets such as Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, wounded veterans, military spouses, caregivers, seasoned veterans, dependents, and the Guard and Reserve.
“We have dedicated people from the military team for every audience that has been involved in the military,” Lepow says. “It helps us grow, scale and determine programs to help them get in, find the best fit, grow and then retain them.”
In May 2016, the company committed to hiring 25,000 military spouses and veterans throughout the next five years, in addition to training 10,000 military spouses and veterans (not employed at Amazon) in cloud computing through the AWS Educate program. AWS Educate is Amazon’s global initiative to provide students and educators with the resources needed to accelerate cloud-related learning endeavors and get them on a path to a sustainable high-growth career.
Amazon’s efforts earned it the No. 5 slot on the 2017 Military Spouse Friendly Employers® list. The list is one in a series published annually by Military Friendly® identifying employers and schools that do the most for veterans and military families by asking, “Is this program better for veterans and their families?”
Spouses in particular
Lepow’s background makes her uniquely qualified to spearhead the military spouse recruiting and retention efforts. She was a virtual employee and full-time caregiver to her husband while he was fighting cancer in Houston, an experience that gave her a personal interest in how to support the family and caregivers through an active career. She worked at the White House, in the Office of the First Lady supporting veteran employment through the Joining Forces initiative. Lepow joined Amazon after moving back to her home town, Seattle, in November 2015 to start the new Military Spouse Program under the Joining Forces commitment made by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in the spring.
Upper-level management at Amazon has given Lepow and her department the flexibility to build the program and address needs as they arise – spouse needs are very different from veteran needs, which Lepow says Amazon leadership recognizes.
“Military spouses have to be so dynamic,” Lepow says. “They are caregivers, support systems, moms, dads, employees and strong community members. That all makes them great employees and Amazon military spouse ambassadors.”
Lepow addresses spouses individually. “Each spouse has a different background, skillset and desire for their career,” she says. “Spouses run the gamut of experience and education levels, so we have built our program to be very flexible.” If a spouse knows of an upcoming move because of a PCS, Amazon looks at the job to see if it can be made virtual if it isn’t already. If not, Amazon examines where the employee is moving and what options are there. Other considerations include how long an employee has been with Amazon; perhaps a promotion is in order or a completely new role. Lepow says that working in tandem with the employee’s manager, oftentimes they can find a solution that’s a win-win for everyone.
“I’m really excited to help this community. Military spouses don’t need a handout; they need someone to give them a chance and to even the playing field,” she says. “Amazon is focused on giving them that chance to get a foot in the door. Generally speaking, military spouses out-perform their peers and volunteer three times more than their civilian counterparts. We want employees like that. If we can prove this model [of hiring military spouses and veterans] works for our business, we hope other companies might take a similar approach because it’s good for their growth and it’s the right thing to do.
“At Amazon, we don’t want to perpetuate the problem where a spouse has to start over everywhere he or she moves. I can understand how hard that is. How can we create a continuum of growth and career trajectory despite moves due to an active duty military spouse? We’re hiring military spouses knowing that the life of an active duty spouse is that they move every few years, if not more. Our company has decided it is not something that’s a high barrier of entry and we want them.”
“Everyone who’s deployed knows that military couples serve together. Often it’s the spouse at home who has the tougher job! At Amazon we’re honoring that legacy of service by making spouses an integral part of our “Hire 25K” commitment.”
-Juan Garcia, Global Leader for Associate Career Development at Amazon.com
More than an Employer
Amazon’s military friendliness doesn’t stop at employment. Most items can be shipped to APO, FPO and DPO addresses, although standard shipping may take up to 21 days. In addition, Amazon Prime video and radio can stream to certain installations around the world; some Amazon Prime original series even are available on the Armed Forces Network.
ALSO from Amazon:
On Veterans Day 2016, Amazon celebrated military spouses on “Style Code Live,” one of its streaming shows. The company solicited nominations for a military spouse who had had a challenging year who deserved a trip to NYC for a fun and relaxing day, capped with a style makeover given by former Victoria’s Secret Angel Karolina Kurková. Jennifer Mullen, the 2016 Armed Forces Insurance Coast Guard Spouse of the Year, was the lucky recipient. Check out Jennifer’s recap of her day here.
“Although I work from home most of the time, my managers do a great job of making me feel included in all office and team events,” she says. “I am very much a part of a team and have embraced the Amazonian culture. Amazon is a bar raiser in the way they treat their veterans and military spouses. I have never felt more optimistic about what the future holds within my new family at Amazon.” Read more here.Subscribe to Military Spouse's Weekly Newsletter