Finding skilled warehouse labor is becoming more difficult. Retaining top talent is even more daunting. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many distribution facilities are seeing labor flee due to an 8 percent increase in warehouse jobs. Since 2007, there has been an increase in 300,000 warehouse jobs with a growth rate of 46 percent. With such an increase, companies are rethinking their distribution strategy.
Automation can give companies an edge when it comes to warehouse distribution. As new distribution centers are built or existing facilities facing retrofit, it only makes sense to explore what automation can do to offset costs and streamline material handling processes.
It sounds like it could be straight out of a science fiction movie - predictions that robots are replacing humans everywhere you look. Often mentioned as some kind of scare tactic, we in the automation business see it much differently. There are many ways warehouse labor is changing, and automation is simply one of them.
There is a lot of misinformation out there, but here at SSI SCHAEFER, we know that adding automation to a warehouse changes the labor aspect - but for the better. Automation supports product demand and lowers prices while creating a safer work environment. Uncertainty over the future due to technological changes have been around for a while, and will continue as time progresses.
Technology advances in a way that creates new opportunities throughout the labor market, and we are currently in those times. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65 percent of schoolchildren today will be employed in jobs that don't yet exist. Many of these futuristic job opportunities will be in automation.
Automation will ideally cover monotonous and dangerous tasks that put human lives at risk, but human skill is still required to make decisions and establish multiple contingencies. Plus, automation is filling a gap where labor is scarce.
When you look at the big picture, automation helps warehouses keep lower overhead while also lowering prices. In this scenario, products become more appealing and demand increases, which leads to a need for more workers in other areas from customer service, IT, and manufacturing. This can lead to increased investment opportunities, profit generation, and production.
According to Quartz Media, certain online retailers have more than tripled their robotic workforce over the last three years, and the rate at which they hire workers hasn't changed during that time.
When banks first introduced automatic teller machines (ATM), many in the industry thought they were designed to reduce the overall banking workforce. While the ATM replicates some of the same tasks as a human teller, there is still a need for the human element - and the number of bank tellers has actually increased over recent decades. Plus, jobs that create software and service ATMs were developed.
So, if there are enough productivity gains to significantly boost demand, job growth in other areas can be the result.
According to OSHA, around 100 employees are unfortunately killed and 95,000 injured every year while operating forklifts. By transitioning to automated and robotic technology, it's possible that many of these injuries and deaths could be avoided. The same goes for manual, heavy lifting, conveyor accidents, and physical stress due to bad ergonomics.
Safety is a huge consideration, but the high tech change also provides employment opportunities - although these opportunities will most likely have a different face. With the technological growth happening inside of warehouses, labor needs change from manual positions to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) based, information technology (IT) jobs. There will still be manual labor positions, but STEM roles like robotics engineers, maintenance technicians, warehouse management systems programmers, and IT project managers are all necessary to design, build, and implement an automated warehouse.
Automation and robotics are changing the warehouse labor market - there is no question about that. And, it's creating more jobs and making it safer to do business. While journalists, unions, and corporations can all speculate on the future, we know one thing for sure - humans are great at adapting to any situation, and adapting to the new warehouse is just another technological progression for the better.