NEW YORK (AP) -- Amazon.com Inc. wants to help its hourly employees prepare for new, higher-paying jobs — outside of Amazon.
Amazon is launching a program that pays an hourly worker up to $2,000 a year to train for "in-demand" careers such as nursing, aircraft mechanics or computer-aided design.
The world's largest online retailer said it will prepay for classes and books — up to 95 percent of the cost, for up to four years — rather than offer tuition reimbursement after the fact.
Amazon says it's offering the training to keep its employees happy, not because it wants them to prepare for layoffs.
"A long-term, engaged, positive workforce is critical to delivering the high level of customer service that people expect from us," said David Clark, vice president of global customer fulfillment.
As of November 2011, the latest available figure, Amazon had 15,000 full-time workers in its order fulfillment centers. It does not break out how many of them are paid hourly. The Seattle-based company has said it is adding thousands of new jobs mainly at order centers in California, Indiana, South Carolina, Tennessee and elsewhere.
For example, it recently began taking applications for 1,500 warehouse jobs in Lebanon and Murfreesboro, Tenn., paying $11 to $13 an hour. New hires will be eligible for the program.
Amazon said it worked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine which jobs were in most demand and paid the most. Careers also include machine tool technology and medical laboratory science.
"If people have other life choices that they would like to do in their career, we want to help them do that. It's better for everyone in the long term," Clark said.