From defence operations to ecommerce, how Amazon is coming up with job opportunities for military veterans

Amazon launched the Military Veterans Employment programme as a part of its diverse and inclusive hiring, as well as to create opportunities for the personnel and their spouses.

Amazon's Military Veterans Employment programme was launched in 2019 | Image credits: Amazon

What’s the similarity between handling weapons while doing a sortie flying at 5,000 feet and solving customer issues in an ecommerce company? You make split-second decisions in both.

Military veterans in India are well-trained, but many of them often find themselves without a job after serving in the Indian Armed Forces. While some retire after completing a seven-year Short Service Commission, others have to retire after serving for a couple of decades on Permanent Commission, despite many years of work-life ahead of them.

According to the Director-General of Resettlement (DGR) of the Army, around 75,000 veterans aged between 32-45 years retire each year. This is where organisations like Amazon steps in.

The ecommerce giant launched the Military Veterans Employment programme in 2019 as a part of its efforts to make the hiring diverse and inclusive. Swati Rustagi, Director of HR, Amazon India Operations, tells SocialStory that the programme aims to create opportunities for military veterans and their spouses across Amazon India’s Fulfilment Network in the country.

“We have partnered with the Office of the DGR and the Army Welfare Placement Organisation (AWPO) to create fulfiling and exciting alternate career opportunities for our military families who have relentlessly served the country,” she says.

She adds that Amazon has hundreds of military veterans at the ecommerce giant’s fulfilment centres across India.

From the Armed Forces to corporates

Arun Kumar Singh is a second-generation veteran who served in the Indian Navy for a decade. A weapons operator in the force’s aviation wing, he tells SocialStory how the military life trains one to make split-second decisions.

“I spent a lot of time in Goa because my unit was posted there. When my colleague and I were in a hanger inspecting aircraft equipment, we heard a siren indicating that an accident had taken place. A plane had crashed 20 miles from our airbase. I was not part of the standby crew who was supposed to fly and help the choppers in rescue operations. But we were airborne in five to six minutes.”

In 2012, while completing his post-graduation at IIM Lucknow, Arun was hired by Amazon to expand and smoothen out the last-mile delivery operations of India’s eastern sector, particularly the Northeast. He says, though he felt a change in the environment from military to corporate, it wasn’t a culture shock.

“We were used to dealing with going out with half information, trying to make sense out of it, and gather intelligence. At Amazon, we were doing a similar thing. It was unknown to us how things will happen and we were putting things together during the initial days,” he adds.

Major Aparna Gulati served for 12 years in the Indian Army. During her military career, Aparna was stationed at several locations for different missions, including high altitude areas for counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir. She joined Amazon in April 2020 as a manager in the Seller Flex Middle-Mile pickup team that is responsible for planning and executing shipment pickup operations from external fulfilment nodes in north India.

“At Amazon, we do regular checks across the floors or nodes on the processes, work progress, and resolve problem areas. This is quite similar to how we would check military transportation area, training area, soldiers’ barracks, and food availability and hygiene in the cookhouses,” she notes.

While there may be a lot of similarities in the corporate and military work lifestyle, such as a sense of ownership and a bias towards action, it’s not always easy to transition from a disciplined and highly hierarchal culture to an open environment. But that’s where Amazon steps in and has a Buddy System in place for quick resolution of queries and achieving a deep understanding of the processes in place.

“The business partners, cross-functional teams, and the HR team supported me throughout my initial settling down period and guided me at every point I needed assistance,” adds Col. Dhirendra Singh, who retired from the Indian Army after serving in the technical vertical for 22 years, and is currently the Site Lead at an Amazon fulfilment centre in Delhi.  

Arun Kumar Singh, General Manager, AMZL India (L) and Swati Rustagi, Director of HR, Amazon India Operations | Image credits: Amazon

Why veterans?

According to Swati, hiring military veterans is not just the right thing to do for Amazon, but it also makes good business sense.

“Military veterans’ experience in leading people under difficult situations, their ability to consistently deliver results, and make quick decisions are invaluable to the fast-paced work environment at Amazon and the ecommerce industry. They have many priceless traits ingrained in them from their years of military training. Integrity, discipline, self-motivation, flexibility, adaptability, and goal attainment becomes their second nature, and is extremely valued at Amazon,” she says.  

Arun says that the Indian Armed Forces is the biggest example of diversity and inclusion as one works with people from different backgrounds and every single community in achieving a single goal. He adds that such exposure helps while working in a corporate environment.

“There is a lot of self-discipline and ownership. We have to deliver high-velocity results on a day-to-day basis. Those things really helped when I joined Amazon and helped me to move faster.”

Amazon’s process-driven approach helps the veterans in identifying the root cause of problems and helps them stay true to their occupation. This is attested by Himanshi Dwivedi, a former Air Force personnel, who joined Amazon in May 2020 and works as a station manager at a delivery station in Indore.

“I am able to apply the tacit knowledge gained from my military experience in people management, stakeholder management, and optimal utilisation of resources on a daily basis,” she says.  

The programme

According to Amazon, over 17,500 military veterans and spouses are actively engaged in the programme worldwide. It was developed to help the organisation create meaningful career opportunities for military veterans, and was an extension to testbed projects such as AWS apprenticeship to Military Leaders Programme.

“It’s a big part of us as diversity and inclusion is important. MVEP is working to identify such talent, let them know about the opportunities, and getting them on board,” says Arun, who is also a sponsor and an owner of the programme.

The programme is geared towards hiring more veterans in Amazon, focussing on coaching and mentoring, and trying to make sure the veterans know about the initiative. 

But even though many veterans who are employed at Amazon have adjusted to the corporate environment, some habits refuse to die. While Arun misses wearing the uniform each day to work, Aparna says she is still getting used to the liberty with which she can operate and deliver results at Amazon.

“I am still getting used to not addressing team leads as ‘sir/madam’,” she quips.

Edited by Suman Singh