Amazon is the most popular online retailer, setting record-breaking sales records each year with both online and brick-and-mortar sales. While Amazon announces their sales milestones year after year, there was one thing noticeably missing from their records: seasonal employees. For the 2018 holidays, Amazon hit an all time low with the number of seasonal employees than ever before, seeing a decline of 20,000 workers from 2017. Even with this decrease in human help, Amazon still managed to move more products over any other time in the business’s history. How was this possible?
Automation bots to the rescue! With more items shipped and fewer people shipping them, it’s clear that Amazon had some additional help as they embrace the surge of automation in their factories. In 2012, Amazon acquired Kiva Systems, a company that engineered warehouse robots, which have slowly been integrated into Amazon’s arsenal. Not only has Amazon focused on warehouse robots, but they have also dabbled in autonomous delivery vehicles, cashier-less grocery store chains, and delivery drones.
With so much automation on the horizon, it looks like it might seriously impact hiring. Amazon has stressed that the robotics are not there to eliminate jobs, but to augment work. The New York Times shot a short documentary about Amazon’s robots explaining, “Amazon has preserved job growth at its factories so far. Whether it can continue to do so is a subject of debate.”
The use of robots in Amazon fulfillment centers has grown exponentially over the last few years as their sales soar. This last year was the first time on record that Amazon actively planned to hire fewer holiday workers than it did in previous years.
Amazon workers have their own response to the warehouse robots. One worker noted, “Right now, at that fulfillment center, if an employee is a picker, they want that person to pick up 400 items per hour, picking each item every 7 seconds.” A picker, Rashad Long, claimed that workers were pressured and completely overworked by the unrealistic expectations set upon them. “We are not robots. We are human beings. We cannot come into work after only 4 hours of sleep and be expected to be fully energized and ready to work. That’s impossible,” says Long.
A system once designed for human participation is slowly diminishing, making it look toward automation as the ultimate goal to consistently meet consumer deadlines. With the decrease in seasonal hires, it’s no shock that Amazon seems to be moving to a 100 percent automation work environment.
As Amazon begins to implement more and more automation robots into their warehouses, other industry titans will begin to follow suit so they can compete. With the growth of technology comes the fear that robots will one day replace all white collar jobs. So is this progress or hindrance?