Are robots really replacing human workers?

February 7, 2022

Last year, the U.S. hit an all-time high in employee quit rates, with 4.5 million people resigning in November alone, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. On average, 3.9 million people left their jobs each month in 2021. While some believe the Great Resignation will end in 2022, it's clear that labor shortages will continue, especially in industries with traditionally high turnover rates like logistics.

As a result, logistics leaders are searching for new ways to overcome workforce shortages and retain their current talent. Many warehouses, for example, have turned to automation technologies to streamline certain operations and increase efficiency. As technology advances, automation capabilities expand to include more processes, and this has workers worried about their job stability. So what does supply chain automation really mean for the future of warehouse employees?

What is supply chain automation?
Before we can answer whether robots will replace human beings in warehouses, we must understand what kind of automation we're talking about. Automating a supply chain means integrating warehouse facilities with digital technologies to connect devices and applications, streamline processes and boost efficiencies in logistics operations. This usually involves smart, IoT-based devices, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics. With supply chain automation, warehouses can:

  • Automate repetitive, manual tasks.
  • Increase transparency and visibility of daily operations.
  • Respond to unexpected disruptions quicker and more effectively.
  • Easily ensure compliance with regulations.

Collaborative robotics
One of the primary ways in which warehouses are automating their processes is through the use of collaborative robotics. Also known as cobots, these mechanical assistants were created to boost supply chain efficiency and productivity while improving the working experience for employees. This is because warehouses use cobots to perform repetitive or hazardous jobs that could cause employee burnout or injury.

Whether performing monotonous, time-consuming or even dangerous tasks, collaborative robotics have proven their ability to increase workflow efficiencies and worker safety. As a result, the supply chain industry has embraced cobot use as COVID-19 continues to impact global workforces and eCommerce demands grow. In fact, Globe Newswire reports that the market size for collaborative robotics is expected to hit $1.2 trillion by 2030. As technology advances, the potential for this automation technology is limited only by imagination. But is this a good thing for warehouse employees, or will they be usurped by their robot counterparts?

Maintaining the human element
According to a PwC report, 37% of workers worry that automation will put their jobs in jeopardy. However, as logistics leaders continue struggling with their recruitment and retention efforts, it seems like automation isn't replacing human staff. Instead, companies are looking to reskill and upskill their current workforce to work side-by-side with these machines. After all, someone needs to ensure the robots are functioning correctly, and who better to do that than existing employees?

When warehouse leaders shift focus to upskilling their current employees, they can mitigate the risks of labor shortages while retaining valuable workers. These programs especially help older employees who may not be able to keep up with the physical demands of warehouse labor but still want to continue working and learning new skills. Overall, supply chain automation will bring huge benefits to both warehouse companies and their employees, and it doesn't seem like robots will be replacing humans any time soon.