Bot-Powered Warehouses Aren’t Imminent, So More Human Workers Are Needed to Meet Demand

Although 16% of unplanned purchases are made after seeing a display while shopping, the vast majority of Americans are now doing a bulk of their personal shopping online rather than in-store. Thanks to e-commerce giants like Amazon, it’s possible to find virtually anything you need with just a few clicks — and have it sent directly to your front door in a day. Not surprisingly, the consumer demand for e-commerce options continues to grow. And while some have expressed concerns about Amazon embracing AI-powered bots rather than human workers, the company publicly says that reality is pretty far off. And in the meantime, they’ll continue to increase hiring practices to meet market conditions.

Generally speaking, the need for warehouse workers is on the rise. Last month, warehouse operators increased their hiring in distribution centers to keep up with e-commerce demand. Overall, warehousing and storage companies added 5,400 during April, making it the fourth straight month of growth in that sector. Over the past year, there have been nearly 70,000 new jobs added. So while American unemployment was 4.0% as of January 2019, it’s clear that opportunities in the warehouse and distribution field could make a sizable dent in unemployment rates nationwide.

As far as Amazon is concerned, human workers are still an essential part of warehouse operations. Reuters data shows that Amazon currently has 110 warehouses throughout the U.S., as well as 45 sorting centers and approximately 50 delivery stations. All told, there are more than 125,000 full-time warehouse workers on Amazon staff, many of whom are in charge of the more detailed and complicated labor tasks that robots simply can’t handle. Although less than 30% of all warehouses can be considered efficient, only a small percentage of warehouse labor can currently be taken on by bots, as they’re too imprecise and require too much training to be a viable alternative to humans.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that automated warehouses are out of the question. According to Amazon’s director of robotics fulfillment, Scott Anderson, totally automated warehouses are on the horizon — but it’ll likely be another 10 years before that becomes a reality. Amazon also gave into demands for higher wages and better working conditions, showing that they have no intention of completely replacing people with robots quite yet. Still, what might happen over the course of the next decade is anyone’s guess. For now, human workers will continue to be a mainstay in Amazon operations — though they might not be 10 years from now.

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