Warehouse jobs - on the line?

Date: 6th Monday, January, 2020

The broader question under consideration in this blog is whether some manual jobs are under threat due to advancements in technology.  If you have the chance to look at companies such as Boston Dynamics, (www.bostondynamics.com) you will be astounded by the advancements in robotics and the capabilities that are being built into these machines.  You might say, well, this has been happening for some time from the advent of the fork-lift truck, but what is more noticeable is the acceleration of progress driven by computing power and artificial intelligence.

On the one hand, perhaps society would be better placed if the majority of low skilled manual tasks were undertaken by robots.  On the other, how do we ‘absorb’ the impact of job losses, if in fact this becomes a reality?  Let’s face it, that’s what robots are good at – high repetition activity with accuracy.  Automation in warehousing will continue to take away traditional jobs because businesses are under pressure to continually push the boundaries to gain competitive advantage, cut costs and deliver higher profits to stakeholders.  If robots demonstrate a better return on investment than humans – it will be a self-fulfilling prophesy.  The flip side?  Technology cannot function in isolation.  Robots need us as much as we will depend on them.  This co-dependency will lead to a new breed of warehouse worker with a different set of skills and responsibilities.  There may be fewer people – there may be more people in some instances - but they will not be doing the heavy lifting, that’s for sure!  The day may come when the entire supply chain can be automated with the aid of human monitoring and support to keep everything on track.  The reality today; technology continues to amaze us, but on occasions it ceases to function as it should.  As with other critical business systems, companies will need to hire a new breed of worker with the appropriate skill sets that don’t exist today.  Many warehouse roles will move to the back-office, others to an engineering support centre.  That is, of course, until technology is developed that fixes itself!  

For the employment industry, there is no need to sweat just yet as this evolution will be yet another dynamic the industry will need to adapt to.  Many traditional roles will go and others will inevitably evolve to fill the gaps and the process of search and selection will continue to support customer demand.

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