Thousands descend on Robbinsville, N.J., for 50,000 Amazon jobs

Amazon likes to go big, and Wednesday the online retailer held its first-ever “Amazon Jobs Day” —  an event to fill 50,000 positions at its fulfillment centers across the country.

About 1,500 of those jobs are in New Jersey at a handful of fulfillment centers, including two new ones in Florence, Burlington County, and Carteret, Middlesex County.

The line of thousands of applicants snaked around almost the entire one million-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, near Trenton, and led to a white tent. Once applicants were inside the tent, there was almost a tailgate-party atmosphere as music blasted from speakers and hundreds stood in line to check in with recruiters and fill out an application if they hadn’t already done so before arriving.

“There is so much interest and excitement over these new opportunities at Amazon fulfillment centers,” said corporate spokeswoman Nina Lindsey. “We didn’t know what to expect. This is amazing.”

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Amazon held a job fair at its Robbinsville, N.J., fulfillment center Wednesday. The line of applicants snaked through the parking lot.

The line, Lindsey said, started forming at 5:30 a.m. outside the facility and never let up. Even by noon, job-seekers were still coming.

By 12:30 p.m., the line around the fulfillment center was just as long as it was three hours earlier.

As department stores and other traditional brick-and-mortar stores close due to online shopping’s growing grip, online players such as Amazon are building up a network of new fulfillment centers and warehouses to handle the crush of online orders.

In Pennsylvania, there are Amazon centers in Breinigsville, Carlisle, and Hazleton.

In January, Amazon announced that it was creating 100,000 jobs over the next 18 months. On Wednesday, it sought to fill about half of them at job fairs across the country in locations like the one in Robbinsville.

Among the job-seekers was Jessica Grater, 34, from Bordentown, who arrived at 8:15.

She said she was seeking warehouse work, with Amazon offering $13.50 to $14.50 an hour.

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Inside Amazon’s fulfillment center in Robbinsville, N.J.

“Definitely worth it to come here,” she said while near the front of the check-in line nearly two hours later. “I have a job, but I’m looking for a better one.”

Currently, Grater is a production manager for a Goodwill shop in Ewing, N.J.

“It’s a step down in pay starting off, but there’s more opportunity and more growth at the company,” she said. “Amazon is huge.”

She clutched a manila folder with all her work and school certifications, including one to operate a forklift-type machine to stack pallets of merchandise, known as a walkie stacker.

“I’ve been working in warehouses for five years,” Grater said. “I just want to show I can do the job. I’m comfortable in warehouses.”

Also standing in line in the tent for a better opportunity was Lorenzo Watson, 45, of Lindenwold. He currently works on tractor-trailers and heavy equipment, such as cranes and excavators, in Eagleswood, Ocean County.

Although he preferred to stay in New Jersey, Watson said, he was willing to relocate.

“I’m willing to do whatever the job requires, pretty much whatever,” he said. “I have a lot  of mechanical experience.”

After checking in, applicants had a choice of taking a tour of the Robbinsville center, where inventory is received, stored, picked, and shipped along 14 miles of conveyor belts, or heading to the recruitment office to fill out an I-9 employment verification form, take a drug test, and interview.

Lindsey said that of the 50,000 jobs, about 40,000 are full time with health care, 401(k) with a 50 percent company match, and paid vacation.

“We know candidates have a lot of choices,” she said. “We want to make sure we are focused on great benefits from day one.”

Filling these fulfillment center positions now to adequately staff for the holiday peak season is critical for Amazon to meet the surging online order demand of its customers, said Ben Conwell, senior managing director and national practice leader of e-commerce for Cushman & Wakefield.

“Even with significant advancement in the deployment of robotics and other technologies, holiday peak season requires huge increases in warehouse associates,” he said. “This is a key result from the ongoing integration of retail — both physical [stores] and digital.

“The most successful retailers are those that keep pace with this shift.”