Amazon among the companies hiring veterans

Amazon among the companies hiring veterans

December 9th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Workers process orders on an assembly line in the Chattanooga Amazon fulfillment center.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Scot Newport quips that the Amazon distribution center in Chattanooga this time of year is like "a mini North Pole."

"It's a very exciting time of the year for Amazon," he said about the hectic Christmas season at the nation's No. 1 Internet retailer.

Newport, a former U.S. Army colonel who spent 27 years in the military, is now bringing his leadership skills to bear at Amazon for the holidays. The 48-year-old joined the Seattle-based company earlier this year after doing his research and finding what he termed Amazon's openness to vets.

"It has a very robust recruitment effort for veterans," Newport said.

As veterans increasingly transition to civilian life, they're finding it challenging like the rest of Americans to locate a job.

In fact, veterans who began their service after Sept. 11, 2001, face an unemployment rate of 10 percent, much higher than the national average of 7.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A number of U.S. companies, including Chattanooga-based Unum, launched an initiative called the 100,000 Jobs Mission in 2011 with a goal of hiring 100,000 transitioning service members by 2020. Its website boasts that more than 28,000 veterans have been hired by its members as of Sept. 30.

Last month, Amazon was named one of the top 100 military-friendly employers by G.I. Jobs magazine, coming in at No. 89.

According to Amazon, it launched a military talent program in 2010 to recruit people from all ranks and branches of service into its fulfillment network and across the company.

The program is managed by a team of military recruiters, all of whom have served in various branches. This year alone, the company has hired more than 600 veterans, the company said.

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman said Amazon has a half dozen military recruiters who go to hundreds of job fairs throughout the year.

Once veterans come on board, she said, Amazon has programs in place that they join for support.

"We're thinking about the transition from the military to civilian life and we want to support them," Cheeseman said.

Newport, senior operations manager for outbound shipping at the Chattanooga center, said he works the night shift at the giant facility at Enterprise South industrial park.

He said he spends his shift on the center's floor, interacting with other workers and making sure the array of goods slated to leave the site are packed and pushed to Amazon customers.

"My sweet spot is leadership," Newport said, adding he formerly commanded upwards of 15,000 troops. "Those leadership skills are what Amazon is looking for."

Newport said the internal veterans group with Amazon is an asset. They talk about how things are going and how to apply their skill sets to the job, he said.

Still, the Buffalo, N.Y., native added that vets don't want to be insulated from the bigger Amazon family.

"We don't want to overly rely on that," he said.

Newport said he sees himself staying with Amazon for the foreseeable future.

"I'm happy where I am," he said. "I want to stay with Amazon -- it's commitment to veterans, pay, the benefits are so good. I think Amazon is the place I want to stay at least for 10 to 15 years."

Amazon is employing about 9,000 people in Tennessee at its four distribution centers over the holidays, Cheeseman said.

An Amazon official earlier this year projected the retailer would have upwards of 5,000 people at its Chattanooga location and another in Bradley County.

At the Bradley facility alone, which handles larger items such as big-screen TVs and water heaters, it's projected to handle several hundred thousand units per week in the pre-Christmas crunch.