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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As automation gnaws at the economy, Fortune 500 companies have come out with training programs to prepare their workers for a future in which their jobs change significantly — or cease to exist at all.

Why it matters: Alongside those programs, a for-profit, training-as-a-service industry is emerging — firms that will come into your company and train everyone for you. Amazon, with its troves of data and cash, may be best positioned to dominate this new reskilling-in-a-box business.

The big picture: Around 90 million American workers will require some degree of new training to hold onto their jobs in the near future, says Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of the National Skills Coalition. "But companies and governments have barely figured out how to close skills gaps."

  • "We know how to take someone with a college degree and teach them machine learning," he says. "Taking someone who's reading at an 8th grade level and training them for an IT job" is much more difficult.
  • The field of companies in the reskilling game is relatively narrow. "There are a couple of examples of bootcamps that are focused on a small set of tech skills," but that's it, says Matt Sigelman, head of Burning Glass Technologies, a labor analytics firm.

Driving the news: Amazon announced last week that it is putting $700 million into training 100,000 employees, a third of its U.S. workforce, over the next six years. Broken down, that totals just $1,077 per worker per year.

  • The average firm spends $1,296 a year per employee on training, according to the Association for Talent Development, which makes Amazon's commitment less impressive, writes Bloomberg's Eric Newcomer.

The bigger bet for Amazon — with its history of monetizing shipping, warehousing and data storage — would be to design a model that works for training and sell it to dozens of other firms.

  • Amazon training-in-a-box: Amazon tells Axios that it is focusing only on its own employees and is not out to create a standalone service for other firms. But experts say the signs — and logic — are there for the e-commerce giant to launch such a business, as it has already done with Marketplace, Fulfillment by Amazon and AWS.
  • It arguably has already gotten started: Amazon has rolled out one of its training programs, Career Choice, to several companies across 13 countries. Through the program, it partners with community colleges to train Amazon workers and place them in jobs ranging from dental hygienist to plumber to web developer.

Its advantage over other training companies is the same it has in other fights — data.

  • The e-commerce giant can curate its training "on a warehouse-by-warehouse basis based on the data it has" on its massive pool of employees, says Sigelman, Burning Glass CEO.
  • It also knows what sorts of programs are most effective and how large or small the skills jumps are between certain jobs, he says.

The other side: "Selling commodities is easier to scale than training human beings," says Van Kleunen, National Skills Coalition CEO.

  • If Amazon or other firms want to offer such services, "there’s a publicly-funded infrastructure of community colleges and schools that will be required to pull that off," he added.

The bottom line: The potential market is huge. Per an analysis by the World Economic Forum, the cost to retrain 77% of U.S. workers at risk of displacement is $20 billion.

Go deeper

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NYC to impose vaccine mandate on private employers

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced a new COVID vaccine mandate for private companies during a Monday interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Why it matters: De Blasio said it was a "first-in-the-nation measure" and will go into effect starting Dec. 27.

D.C.-Beijing tensions are shifting markets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. markets stand to lose $2 trillion in value if D.C. and Beijing drift further apart.

Why it matters: Political chasms are showing up in new securities regulations that put companies and investors in a bind. The rules are also another reflection of how much relations between the world’s largest economies have cooled, even as they remain economically interdependent. 

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Axios Investigates

Documents reveal the secrecy of America's drug pricing matrix

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

American businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on prescription drugs, and the bills keep getting bigger. But some of the companies promising to help rein in those costs prevent employers from looking under the hood.

Why it matters: Documents provided to Axios reveal a new layer of secrecy within the maze of American drug pricing — one in which firms that manage drug coverage for hundreds of employers, representing millions of workers, obscure the details of their work and make it difficult to figure out whether they're actually providing a good deal.