Amazon’s spawling Lexington County distribution center will become its first in the state to open a classroom on-site for higher education of its workforce, the company said Tuesday.
Amazon associates will be able to attend classes toward an associate college degree and the certificates needed to land jobs in occupations in high demand throughout the Palmetto State, Amazon said.
The dedicated 30-by40-foot classroom space under construction will be fully outfitted with computers and other media, and desks and chairs to be capable of handling 30 or so students, the company said.
It sits just inside the security barrier of the east wing of the 1 million-square-foot plant on ground-level, in a high-traffic area of the plant, which reflects the high profile Amazon says it is putting behind its new Career Choice program for associates.
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The higher education program, offered in conjunction with Midlands Technical College, is accessible to all Amazon full-time and part-time associates and paid for by the company at 95 percent, according George Schultz, Amazon director of operations at the plant in Cayce.
All Amazon distribution centers offer the higher ed courses, including the sites in Greenville and Charleston, but the Cayce plant is the first in the state to build a classroom to house the program.
“We have looked at those careers outside of Amazon that are most in demand through the Department of Labor and we allow our associates to pursue degrees and certificate programs within those courses of study,” Schultz said. “The classroom allows our associates to do it without leaving the site.”
Once associates finish a shift, they can go straight to class, erasing drive time to a nearby college campus, Schultz said, making continuing education much more convenient and accessible.
Company wide and at the Cayce facility, 50 percent of Amazon associates have expressed an interest in the continuing education classes, Schultz said, which have been underway in temporary spaces for just over a year. The new class space will open July 11.
Amazon opened the Cayce distribution center in 2011. The company has 4,000 associates in South Carolina, but all of them may not plan on making Amazon a career, officials noted.
Karl Gailliard, 37, a Dreher High School graduate, is a trainer for new associates at the plant. He completed a three-month introductory course to welding through Amazon, then earned a scholarship through Midlands Technical College for further study of the trade beginning in January.
“I am going to work with Amazon for as long as possible,” Gailliard said. “If there is more financial growth elsewhere, then of course, I would (be interested in a career in welding). I see some growth in the welding field.”
Gailliard said he was kind of “shocked” initially when he found out Amazon was offering continuing education – and willing to pay 95 percent of the tuition and book costs upfront – even if the training did not pertain to skills the company normally seeks.
“Associates genuinely like the program,” Gailliard said. “It improves their morale, it improves the way they come to work. It’s a win for everybody.”
Faleisha Kennedy is an operations administrative assistant in Amazon’s human resources department at the Cayce plant. The New Zion native is enrolled in the cardiac care program being offered at Amazon, with a goal of becoming a phlebotomist.
“I took the opportunity because it was given to me,” Kennedy said of her participation in the cardiac care program. “It works out fine for me (the classroom schedule). Kennedy said she took the medical terminology course offered through Amazon’s Career Choice because it was needed to get her foot in the door for phlebotomy. In the meantime, “I love my (current) job. Working here for Amazon is great -- good benefits, lots of good stuff.”
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398