June 20, 2018
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Say it with me: Machines are our friends

While many workers fear losing their jobs to automation, those fears—at least in the supply chain—are largely unfounded.

By David Maloney

A recent research study reveals that the health of our nation's workers may be adversely affected by the fear of losing their jobs to automation.

The study, conducted by researchers at Ball State University and Villanova University, shows that even a 10-percent increase in the risk of automation leads to declines in workers' general, physical, and mental health. The research follows widely reported estimates that machines will eventually replace nearly half the jobs currently performed by humans. Workers understandably fear they will lose their livelihoods and be unable to care for their familiesa fear that is especially pronounced among workers in rural areas where job opportunities are scarce.

Of course, jobs will change as technologies evolve. This is nothing new. There are very few calls today for blacksmiths or elevator operators. Workers in those jobs had to adapt to changing technologies, with the result that many transferred their skills to other fields.

Some jobs will also change in the supply chain. Most positions in the future will likely require greater skills than the entry-level minimum-wage jobs that are common in warehouses. However, I believe the fear of widespread job loss in the supply chain is unfounded.

One reason for the rapid growth of automation in our industry is that there simply are not enough people available to do the work. With national unemployment at only 3.8 percent in May (the lowest rate since the Great Recession), we do not have the labor needed to meet the demands of industry growth. The limited labor pool makes it especially hard to find good workers. Machines help to make up this difference. It's not so much a case of machines replacing workers as a case of machines replacing people who simply are not there.

Beyond the need to fill labor gaps, most of the automated systems now being introduced in distribution operations are designed to make existing workers more productive and efficient. Instead of replacing workers, these machines simply make their jobs easier.

Today's robots and automated vehicles ferry products to workers, eliminating the need for them to roam the aisles in search of items, which results in less fatigue. They also pick products for workers, reducing tasks that involve repetitive reaching and twisting—a source of many job-related injuries.

In the past, manual warehouses required workers to lift and move hundreds of heavy boxes during the course of an eight-hour shift. Now, machines do the heavy lifting, allowing workers to concentrate on more productive tasks.

So, while some fear the future, I believe there will be plenty of work to go around. Say it with me: Machines are our friends, machines are our friends.

About the Author

David Maloney
Editorial Director
David Maloney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and is currently the editorial director for DC Velocity and Supply Chain Quarterly magazines. In this role, he is responsible for the editorial content of both brands of Agile Business Media. Dave joined DC Velocity in April of 2004. Prior to that, he was a senior editor for Modern Materials Handling magazine. Dave also has extensive experience as a broadcast journalist. Before writing for supply chain publications, he was a journalist, television producer and director in Pittsburgh. Dave combines a background of reporting on logistics with his video production experience to bring new opportunities to DC Velocity readers, including web videos highlighting top distribution and logistics facilities, webcasts and other cross-media projects. He continues to live and work in the Pittsburgh area.

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