Utah students are getting free Amazon AWS training, but if the skills fall out of favor it may not lead to a better education or a tech job

By Allana Akhtar

innovation inc banner
Business Insider

Jeff Bezos is ensuring that some children start getting the skills to get a job at Amazon as early as in elementary school. 

Amazon just announced that it partnered with Utah's public K-12 schools to provide free cloud computing training using Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud business. The company will give educators free AWS training to help guide students, who can access the cloud computing curriculum online at their own pace, the company stated in a release.

"At AWS, we strongly believe in providing individuals with the tools and resources they need to pursue in-demand cloud jobs," John Stephenson, director of AWS public policy, said in a statement. "This collaboration with Talent Ready Utah will help to build the talent pipeline for local businesses needing workers with cloud skills and industry recognized cloud certifications.

The move is part of a the company's growing investment towards bringing AWS training to students. The company has previously collaborated with California and Virginia's community and public colleges to offer programs in cloud computing. In 2017, Amazon launched an AWS training program geared towards 14- to 17-year-olds

Demand for people well-versed in cloud computing is high — and may have gotten higher due to the pandemic. Glassdoor named "cloud engineer" one of the best tech jobs in 2020 in terms of salary, job openings, and employee satisfaction. At Amazon, sales for AWS rose by 33% year over year in April from an increased need for cloud storage as more companies worked remotely this year. AWS made up two-thirds of the company's operating income between April and June, substantially more than its e-commerce empire.

Plus, getting certified in courses that train job seekers using AWS software could lead to more money — one longtime IT employee told Business Insider his salary increased by 40% after completing six AWS certifications.

Though some students will get trained in Amazon-specific skills that could land them a top tier tech gig, some experts warn against learning skills specifically geared toward getting a job at one company — since Amazon can't hire everyone who knows AWS. 

Michael Horn, strategist at education firm Entangled Group, told Education Dive that Amazon's expansion into postsecondary credentials might incentivize students to bypass getting a two- or four-year degree altogether. "It's not hard to imagine the service becoming deeply threatening to colleges," Horn said to Education Dive's Kelly Field.

Learning Amazon-specific skills won't guarantee you a job there — and research finds company skills-specific learning could be counterproductive

Tech leaders have long said there's a skills gap between what schools teach and the training employers actually need.

In April, the Trump administration spearheaded the "Find Something New" campaign that encourages unemployed Americans to learn new skills to find a new job. The program, funded entirely by 20 companies that include Apple and IBM, also encourages employers to loosen degree requirements and hire applicants with just skills-based training, Bloomberg reports

"We believe that, with the right tools, people have the power to change their lives and the lives of their families for the better," Apple CEO Tim Cook said of the program. Cook has previously said US colleges don't adequately teach skills that business leaders need in their workforces. 

But the issue with telling job seekers to train in specific skills that corporations say they need is that the company may change their in-demand skills within a few years, depending on the market, according to author and professor Ellen Ruppel Shell. 

In Shell's book, "The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change," she studied an advanced manufacturing class geared toward retraining former automobile industry employees in their 40s. She found that while the employees left the program highly knowledgeable in the skills the company said it wanted, the jobs offered to them did not pay enough to support their families.

One 2019 paper found the "skills gap" is not as large as tech leaders have claimed: economists at the American Economics Association found that Americans did have the education and job experience tech employers were looking for, but those companies hired less when the unemployment rate was high due to increased competition. And an analysis of 114,000 resumes found that US job seekers had too many unnecessary skills, rather than not enough in-demand skills.