Amazon to create 1000 UK jobs through apprentice scheme.

It has been announced this week that online retail giant, Amazon will create over 1000 UK jobs thanks to its new apprentice scheme.

There will be nine different programmes in all, each one lasting between 13 months and 4 years.  They will be open to both new and existing staff, and will cover key operational and strategic processes across robotics, IT and software engineering among others. In these early stages the learning opportunities have been introduced for workers across Amazon’s corporate and operations sites in Edinburgh, Cambridge and London.

Of the scheme, Doug Gurr, Amazon’s UK country manager says;

“We want to give people opportunities to succeed in the digital age, regardless of their background”, and that “our fully-funded apprenticeship programme, from entry level through to degree level, will provide an exciting path to becoming Amazon’s future team leaders, engineers and innovation drivers.”

This announcement comes at a time when Amazon are facing growing pressures to improve working conditions for its employees, especially those who perform tasks at lower pay grades.  Indeed, late last year Amazon announced a rise in its minimum wage; one that improved the take home for hundreds and thousands of workers.  Additionally, last autumn Amazon was hit by a series of walkouts in Germany and France over wages and working conditions.

In total, more than 90 apprenticeships will be offered at a bachelor’s and master’s degree level, with two in every 10 places being offered out to existing team members.  The company is looking to offer current employees holding low-skill positions a solid route for career progression.

These all expenses paid courses will certainly be a favourable option to the fees ambitious students and post grads are having to incur in order to gain qualifications externally.  As such, we are sure that competition for a seat at the Amazon table will be fierce.

Amazon always have one foot ahead of the game….always with an “iron in the fire” so to speak.  Apprenticeship schemes such as this will only serve to create a stronger workforce; one that is equipped to carry the online giant through the next chapter of their journey.

The application process opens in March and will likely attract many of the 27,500 currently on Amazon’s UK payroll.  The salaries on the scheme will range from £9.50 per hour to £30,000 annually.

BBC and ITV team up to launch Netflix rival.

The BBC and ITV are without a doubt the two biggest names in UK broadcasting.  They have announced this week that they plan to team up to launch a paid for Netflix-esque streaming platform.  This new service will be called ‘Britbox” and the partnership hope to release the product by the end of 2019.

Audiences are rapidly deserting more traditional channels and logging into streaming services such as Netflix et al.  We are living in an age driven by instant gratification; one which demands and expects our favourite shows to be available to stream on demand.  

Britbox will mainly feature archive shows from both stations.  More recent programs will still be available via the catch-up services, BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub.  Excitingly, there will also be a Britbox answer to the Netflix Originals and Prime Exclusive offerings.  Britbox will also produce new commissions; ones available exclusively on the platform.

Although early offerings will be limited to ITV and BBC shows, other broadcasters are expected to join the service at a later date.  Channel 4, for example, are known to have entered into discussions.

Although British audiences are yet to welcome Britbox to their screens, the streaming service has been available in the US for some time.  Across the Atlantic, it has 500,000 customers who pay for a selection of UK television shows.

Britbox’s launch is likely to discourage British broadcasters from licensing their archive material to services such as Netflix in an attempt to drive viewers to the new UK service.

ITV chief executive, Carolyn McCall said Britbox would be pitched as an add-on for British households that already have one streaming service.  She believes it to be a complimentary product as “it is doing a very different thing”. She went on to remark that Netflix commissioned shows targeted at a global audience whereas Britbox’s original material would be aimed at UK viewers;

“When we’re commissioning content we’re looking at it working in the UK specifically. It is a permanent, comprehensive home for the widest range of British content available in one place.”

Whether or not Britbox can rival its deep-pocketed competitors remains to be seen, however the luxury of choice is one that will surely be welcomed by the British viewing public.  British drama is hailed to be the best in the world, yet is one genre that has been threatened by our love of reality TV with Heads of stations throwing budgets at the latter. The original commissions promised by the platform will hopefully go someway to re-address this disparity.  

The BBC director general, Tony Hall, said the streaming service would be “truly special”; one that will deliver “the best homegrown content to the public who love it best”.  

BMW announce latest AI ‘in-car’ features.

The Internet of Things phenomenon is one which has become a significant part of our world.   One which we are all likely to use in some capacity over the next 5 years. Indeed, recent research indicates that the number of connected devices is set to reach over 75 billion by 2025.  Not only that, the number of connected devices per person is expected to average 6.58 by 2020.  

The automotive industry is one which has fully embraced this revolution.     Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity is one of THE hot topics in the car industry right now.  This week BMW have used the MWC Barcelona platform to reveal its newest AI in-car initiative; BMW Natural Interaction.

The concept involves the use of visual and audio sensors to allow the driver to enjoy a far more integrated experience with the car.  Through the use of voice or hand gestures, drivers will be able to indicate to features outside the car and get more information on them.  For example, if you pass a restaurant, the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant (IPA) will be able to make a reservation for you if you wish. These exciting systems will work by combining in-car AI with Microsoft’s Azure cloud technologies.

Essentially, BMW will use two cameras.  One will be a wide-angle camera positioned behind the rear-view mirror that can track the gestures of both the driver and front-seat passenger.  The other will sit behind the dashboard, only looking at the driver through the steering wheel. It will be able to react to eye movements toward external stimuli or adjustments of head position.

This latest innovation has to overcome a couple of complexities.  Not only does the tech need to ‘read’ the driver, but it also has to take into account that the car is situated somewhere in space.  For it all to integrate, the location data needs to be incredibly precise.

At the Barcelona launch, Christoph Grote, BMW Group’s senior VP for electronics remarked “GPS isn’t enough for this”.  The company plan to use the car’s forward-facing camera to gather additional information that helps localise the car in ‘space’ based on comparing the image to the digital map.

Despite the futuristic nature of these concepts, many of them are already production ready.  Grote said;

“All of this is in series production and some of it is already available as part of the BMW OS 7 release. But the major work we are doing, looking ahead to the iNext [electric SUV], is about gaze, head pose and gesture tracking and combining those with the other modalities. But everything we showed today is going to go into production.”

In lots of ways, this latest innovation is a follow on from BMW’s work on its IPA in-car assistant.  For this, BMW already use Azure Cognitive Service. They plan to use the same tech to integrate these new features; something which they believe to be integral to the success of this new multi-modal system.

For BMW, V2X systems that use the cellular network and have a connection to the cloud hold major advantages over those that try to connect cars directly.  They are of the opinion that cloud-connected systems are easier to maintain and are able to translate between different standards. In the long run, they are also able to integrate different generations of this system to ensure that cars from different manufacturers can communicate with each other.

BMW are not alone in this way of thinking.  Daimler are among other manufacturers who have recently migrated their big data platform to the cloud.

Grote also noted that BMW has a long history of working with Microsoft in the cloud; a relationship that has “been great” and one that he anticipates to be just as “successful” going forward.  

iOS developers will soon be able to offer subscription discounts.

Tech giant Apple will soon be offering iOS and Mac App store developers the option to offer discounted subscriptions to current and past customers.

Currently, limited-time subscription rates can only be offered as part of introductory promotions.  Once customers have signed up for a service or an app they are stuck having to pay the regular subscription charge after early promotional discounts have expired.  Up to this point, developers have not been able to change or extend this. Should they have wished to entice former customers back, they would have had to adjust the monthly fee for everyone.

With iOS 12.2 though, this is set to change.  This update will enable developers to offer promotional subscription discounts to both lapsed and current users.  They will be able to temporarily drop the price whenever they want, not just at the point of joining.

Apple will also offer more flexibility.  Developers will be able to run up to 10 different promotional prices on a single subscription.  This will mean that customers who let their in-app subscriptions expire, can be offered a more aggressive or tempting promo discount than existing customers.  Not only this. Several discount options can be explored through A/B testing. As such, one customer can be offered a promo that is less (or more) expensive than another user of the same app.

App makers will be also be able to see which users have disabled auto-renewal and serve them the promotion that’s most likely to encourage re-subscription.  

The update will retain the anonymous promotional subscription pricing model currently in place in the App store.  Users will not be able to see if others are getting a better deal than they are. The changes are not permanent though.  At some point, the promotional period will end, and just as now, customers will flip back into paying the standard monthly charge.

Keeping both customers and devs happy is crucial for Apple’s bottom line.  They retain a significant proportion of each subscription fee for themselves; a model that has allowed the company’s services business to soar over the last few years.

To satiate the former, Apple have recently taken steps to make it easier for their users to access and manage subscriptions. In addition to this, in January the company also requested that developers make their subscription plans more transparent when presenting them to customers.  

These new subscription tools will level the playing field and allow app makers to improve their take up rate, meaning that the devs are left smiling too.   

And Finally;

Earlier, Our Week in Digital reported that Amazon have launched a series of apprenticeship courses to better equip its team for work in the digital world, but have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in an Amazon fulfilment warehouse?  

Thanks to an Australian news network, we no longer have to guess! ABC News have launched a new game called The Amazon Race based on the experiences of people who’ve worked in the company’s Melbourne warehouse.  

The game is based on the accounts of current and former workers, who told the network that they are at the behest of high pick targets and casual employment.  A favourable shift allocation is determined by employee performance. As a result, the game sees the player racing around to pick products, hit targets and solve problems…all to “win” more shifts.

It has long been documented that Amazon warehouse working conditions are pretty dismal, and that life in the company’s fulfilment centres are hardly what one would call a dream job.  Indeed, the game, based on real-life experiences certainly suggests this to be true!

Unsurprisingly, Amazon have not received the game favourably!  A spokesperson for the company commented that the game is

“intentionally sensational in its reporting and is demeaning to the hard working dedicated people who work at Amazon fulfilment centres and do a great job.”

This ABC News offering is not the first game to tackle the complex issues surrounding gig-working.  The Financial Times released The Uber Game which highlights the challenges faced by rideshare drivers.  More depressingly still, Bloomberg’s American Mall game portrays you as a store owner trying to survive against the world of online retail and the competition it presents.  

Bleak stuff.  All this is making me incredibly appreciative of my lovely job here at Ignite Digital.

Are you unhappy in your current role?  Maybe you fancy a new tech, digital or data challenge?

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About the author: As a founder of Ignite Digital Talent, I lead our brilliant team to ensure we deliver time and time again for our clients. I also stay closely networked with industry influencers to ensure we are well placed to understand the issues and challenges our clients face.

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