Biz Beat

Amazon introduces first Northern California on-site college classroom

Want to go into the healthcare field, logistics, or maybe video game design? Go to work at Amazon and your employer could help make that happen.

The internet retail giant last week introduced its “on-site education center” at the fulfillment center in Tracy. A media tour on Thursday coincided with an education fair where representatives from local college programs and training schools — truck driving was one option — were on hand to meet with employees from Amazon’s Tracy and Patterson centers.

The education center is designed to be a quiet place, with laptops and wifi provided, where schools can offer classes and employees can take them without having to leave work. The support also is financial: Amazon will pay up to 95 percent of tuition costs for eligible employees.

But isn’t that essentially facilitating training for employees to move on to jobs outside of Amazon? Well, yes.

“That’s the idea,” said Kelvin Downes, regional operations director for Amazon. “It sounds wild.”

But he said Amazon wants to be a part of the communities in which it operates, and that means helping educate the workforce even if that education leads employees to jobs elsewhere. “And they don’t have to pay us back, either,” he said, adding that more than 9,000 employees have taken advantage of the program, called Career Choice, companywide.

Amazon employs thousands of Northern San Joaquin Valley residents at its fulfillment centers in Tracy and Patterson, and a new one set for Mountain House. And if that’s too far for you, the company announced earlier this month it’s hiring 5,000 more folks to provide “virtual customer service” while they work from home.

Also, I may be the last one to know this, but Amazon’s same-day delivery is available in our area. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I thought I would look for Martian dice , this game my friend Melissa brought over one day. So I did some searching on my phone to find a store that carried it. No luck. Tried Amazon, and sure enough, there it was. And when I clicked on “free shipping” it asked if I wanted it delivered that day. For free? Well, sure. The game was on my doorstep when we got home.

Elsewhere around the Business Beat:

As we reported earlier this week, the Bebe store at Modesto’s Vintage Faire Mall is set for closure. In fact, all Bebe stores are closing.

Bebe, started in 1976 in San Francisco, has been struggling against stiff competition from online retailers, including Amazon (see above). The company did not announce the closure, but the California Employment Development Department recently received standard Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act letters informing of upcoming layoffs. That included the Modesto store at Vintage Faire Mall. The Sacramento Bee reported that the job losses are expected to occur by the end of next month.

It’s the latest brick-and-mortar clothing store to announce closures. The same fate has claimed Wet Seal and the Limited in recent years. Both at one time operated at Vintage Faire, as well.