There’s good news on the Coastal Virginia workforce development front as Tidewater Community College (TCC) joins Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University in partnering with Amazon to provide pre-paid tuition for operations employees who’ve completed 90 days of service. The announcement came in May during an eye-popping tour of Amazon’s Robotics Fulfillment Center in Suffolk, where 2,500 employees—many of whom work customized flex schedules—pick, pack, and ship customer items. The TCC partnership announcement is a boon to Amazon employees, many of whom live near one of the four campus locations and appreciate the chance to level up their career game.
“Tidewater Community College is proud to partner with Amazon’s Career Choice, providing more higher education opportunities for Amazon’s growing workforce in Hampton Roads,” says Dr. Marcia Conston, President of TCC. “TCC offers multiple, flexible pathways for students to learn while working full, or part-time. This partnership with Amazon is ideal for students who want to work for an organization that invests in their education and in their fut
Known as ORF3 in Amazon argot, the 5.5 story, 3.8 million-square-foot fulfillment center is the equivalent of 67 football fields. It’s currently one of the largest buildings in Virginia, second only to the Pentagon, and it’s the first robotics center in the commonwealth. Threaded through the building are 12.6 miles of conveyor belts capable of whizzing along at 300 feet per second. It’s enough to create a breeze. Four of the building’s floors are each home to 1,300 light blue robotic drives that move product towers to packing stations with a snappy, military-like precision that would be the envy of any modern choreographer.
Amazon associates work alongside their mechanical helpers. The robots are charged with doing much of the physical heavy lifting, while the Career Choice pre-paid tuition program lifts a heavy financial burden from the shoulders of employees who want to embark on a specific career path, or continue one they’ve already started.
Lindsay Winter, Amazon Head of Virginia Public Policy, weighs in on the new partnership: “At Amazon, we’re committed to empowering our employees by providing them access to the education and training they need to grow their careers, whether that’s with us or elsewhere. One of Amazon’s newer Leadership Principles is ‘Strive to be Earth’s Best Employer,’ and one of the ways we do that is through our Upskilling 2025 pledge, a $1.2 billion commitment to provide skills training and educational opportunities to 300,000 U.S. employees by 2025.” Career Choice is one of at least 10 Amazon Upskilling programs available to employees.
The Career Choice program offers eligible employees’ paths to education and industry skills through three verticals:
• College Partnerships: The newest benefit. It includes pre-paid associate and bachelor’s degree programs at more than 400 colleges.
• Pathways: Employees have the opportunity to earn certifications in technology, health care, transportation, mec
hanical and industrial systems, and business and administration systems.
• Foundations: This program is currently available only in the U.S. but includes English language learning (ESL), high school completion and GED programs, and coaching support via a partnership with Kaplan.
“The Hampton Roads Community is a great place to do business,” says Deron Thompson, Assistant Manager, ORF3. “We’re proud to continue to invest in the area and in the communities where our Amazonians and their families live and work. We are proud to serve customers from this robotics facility with millions of dollars of inventory—the most under one roof at Amazon.”
Since the Career Choice pre-paid tuition program launched in 2012, the program has had 130,000 participants, including nearly 60,000 new participants in 2022.