Hundreds of people showed up Wednesday for a chance to pack and ship products to Amazon customers, as the e-commerce company held a giant job fair at nearly a dozen U.S. warehouses, including one of its major distribution centers in central Indiana.
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 as consumers buy more and more products online.
Nearly 40,000 of the 50,000 packing, sorting and shipping jobs at Amazon will be full-time positions. Most of them will count toward Amazon's previously announced goal of adding 100,000 full-time workers by the middle of next year.
About 1,500 of those hirings are expected to take place at the company's Whitestown facility, northwest of Indianapolis. The company already has about 9,000 workers in Indiana at facilities in Whitestown, Indianapolis and Plainfield.
The bad news about such hiring sprees 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," 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, Massachusetts, 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.
On Wednesday, Amazon hired 30 people at Fall River before 10 a.m., with pop musing blaring and a line snaking out of the warehouse and under a tent.
One person in line, 47-year-old Steve King of Warren, Rhode Island, said he's not worried about competition from robots. He is a small business owner looking for a change.
"The stress of that," King said. "The pros and cons of owning a small business is something I'm trying to get away from. The worry, the hours, the paying for health care."
Besides Whitestown and Fall River, the event is taking place at Amazon shipping sites in Baltimore; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Etna, Ohio; Hebron, Kentucky; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Kent, Washington; Robbinsville, New Jersey; and Romeoville, Illinois.
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, New York.
Amazon is "insatiable when it comes to filling jobs at warehouses," 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.