As many providers across the globe continue to realize the benefits of digitally transforming their facilities, we are also starting to see some of the negative results come out. (At least that’s what we’ve been led to believe.)
As an employer, automating your facility is a no brainer. After all, it has proven itself to lead to quicker turn around and higher profits. That being said, as an employee, automation has been unfortunately tangled together with the phrase “LAID OFF.”
This is an inaccurate portrayal of the intent of automation.
Automation DOES NOT have to result in widespread job loss. In fact, we’ve found that automation can actually increase your staff’s self-worth and help them move up the ladder within the many new facets of your company! (… more on that later.)
Case in point, let’s take a look at one major player in the retail industry that appears to be dealing with this very issue as we speak.
American multinational retail corporation, Walmart Inc. just announced their intentions to make a considerable investment in their e-commerce automation capabilities in 2023.
Speaking with Business Insider, a spokesperson for the retailer reiterated the company’s belief that customer expectations are changing, and as a direct result, Walmart is, “… moving quickly to meet and exceed their needs. As demand grows, we are maximizing our network of stores and fulfillment centers, to deliver items for online customers, when and how they want them.”
In the company’s latest February earnings call, CFO John David Rainey highlighted the company’s plans for automation while noting today’s difficult economic climate.
“You will begin to see the significant benefits from the investments that we’re making in things like our supply chain automation and our expanded e-commerce capabilities,” he said. “The macro pressures this year may obscure some of that progress but won’t take away from the long-term promise of many of these initiatives.”
Rainey also made a point to mention that he was “most excited about the automation opportunity we have” with plans to increase investments in automation technology as part of its more than $15-billion capital expenditure budget this year.
Naturally, these moves are in direct response to the success of Walmart’s competing online retailers such as Amazon.com, which continue to be a serious threat to Walmart and its fellow brick-and-mortar sellers as 21st Century customers continue to become more reliant on the conveniences and speed of online shopping. In fact, it was Amazon, back in 2021, that surprised everyone and surpassed Walmart as the world’s largest retailer. An upset that most definitely stemmed from the result of the economic shutdown.
Though currently back in the lead, Walmart doesn’t plan to let this threat to their success happen again and, as such, is currently doing what they can to continue to outpace their online competition by making what they see as necessary changes to their facilities to make sure they continue to be relevant and hold the title of the “World’s Largest Retailer” in the years ahead.
The double blow of the rise of online shopping and the economic costs of the pandemic have left many retailers reeling looking for ways to get their business back on track.
In a recent statement to Reuters, a Walmart official noted that, though unrelated to its modernization plans, hundreds of workers from warehouses in New Jersey, Texas, California, Florida and Pennsylvania have been given up to 90 days to find jobs at other company locations, though declined to call this action a “mass layoff” as these warehouses continue to operate normally.
Referencing the company’s controversial move, one Walmart spokesperson explained to Business Insider how the company, “… recently adjusted staffing levels at our fulfillment centers in select markets to better prepare for the future needs of customers,” but made sure to follow up by stating that the decision was not made lightly and that company officials were, “… working closely with affected associates to help them understand what career options may be available at other Walmart locations.”
… And plenty of locations there are as workers being laid off will be eligible for roles at Walmart’s 5,000 U.S. stores which the company has increasingly been using as a platform to ship orders to customers’ doorsteps.
Though certainly reassuring to some employees, others would not be blamed to be a little skeptical of what might happen to their careers in the days ahead.
… And though it’s completely understandable that the pessimism may come out in some finding themselves in such a predicament, it does – at least publicly – appear that Walmart and its officials are working to transfer any employees who wish to remain with the company for the foreseeable future, to a new and potentially more fulfilling position.
In fact, the company’s recent move towards automation could actually turn out to be just the glimmer of hope these employees need right now…
Walmart’s official shift towards automation has been a long time coming as company leaders continue to tout the capabilities of what they’re referring to as their “next generation fulfillment centers.”
Discussing the importance of these facilities – the first of which opened last year in Joliet, Illinois — Walmart’s senior vice president of automation and innovation, David Guggina, wrote that they are, “… the first of their kind for Walmart, using the powerful combination of people, robotics, and machine learning to set an entirely new precedent for us on the speed of fulfillment while continuing to create a positive work environment for associates.”
Continuing, Guggina also stated his belief that the addition of these new centers, “could provide 75% of the U.S. population with next or two-day shipping on millions of items.”
But the good news doesn’t end there…
The added bonus of 4,000 new jobs is just the icing on the cake for Walmart and its associates as the retailer to not only hire for current positions, but create new “tech-focused” positions such as “control technicians, quality audit analysts and flow managers” once all locations are operational.
These fulfillment centers could be the exact place many of these currently threatened employees find themselves in the weeks ahead, making the benefits of automation their potential saving grace, rather than their career’s executioner.
In addition to thousands of new jobs, these fulfillment centers will feature technology from intelligent-fulfillment firm Knapp, which utilizes robotics and artificial intelligence in a logistical setting.
One example of such technology is a patent-pending process for receiving and unloading cases of merchandise from sellers and suppliers. During this process, workers will fill totes with individual items before a shuttle transports them to a massive, automated storage system, where they’re placed in one of millions of designated locations. Then, once a customer purchases an individual item, the system will set about “retrieving their items and shuttling the needed totes to an associate at a picking station,” where workers will then pack and ship the orders.
This highly automated process comes as a drastic change for the way Walmart’s fulfillment centers currently operate as the company works to maximize use of such spaces for more product storage, while still working to remain faithful to those employees who make the company what it is today.
Automation services are tools utilized by companies that are intended to BETTER the lives of the people who work with them, not make them worse.
This is something we here at Rain Engineering whole heartedly believe in!
After all, many already believe the term “automation” to be synonymous with the loss of jobs.
… But – as stated at the beginning of this article – THIS DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THE CASE!
In fact, many employers have found automation to be the answer to freeing up their staff’s time to better train them for careers in the company that are more rewarding and higher paying than the ones they currently hold.
This is the key to a leader successfully implementing a digital transformation in their business. Not turning your back on the people who make your business possible, but, rather, working to do what you can to support those who depend on you on a daily basis.
We truly believe, by successfully implementing a digital transformation in a facility, the workers who’s sweat and energy that enable a factory’s daily operation should then have the opportunity to refocus their efforts towards more productive and more profitable ventures.
This is exactly the goal it appears Walmart is working towards as they too continue to ramp up their automation dependence, while staying true to their employees.
… And though, yes, one group of jobs may currently be on the chopping block for the blue-chip retailer, it appears the retail giant may have another batch on the sidelines just waiting to be filled.
P.S. A company’s digital transformation can be a scary thing for everyone involved.
Because, by definition, a transformation is a form of change and, with change, the future is always uncertain.
This uncertainty causes many in the industry unnecessary anxiety.
That’s why Rain Engineering is doing what we can to make sure your company not only benefits from the productivity of implementing automation into your facility, but that your staff is better prepared to change WITH your business, rather than be thrown out of it.
After all, as we’ve seen with Walmart above, our companies are only as strong as those who make their operation possible.
It’s for this very reason that we recently created an online e-learning platform called Manufacturing KnowHow, consisting of a variety of web-based videos, tutorials, and worksheets designed specifically to make sure everyone on your team has the skills needed to compete – and succeed – during your digital revolution.
By joining the Manufacturing KnowHow family, you’ll open yourself up to a community of individuals who are all working towards one goal… To prepare and educate you on the skills you’ll need to continue to be valuable in the manufacturing field.
Combining the lifelong manufacturing experiences of some of the industry’s top leaders, you and your team will soon find yourselves ready to tackle any problem thrown your way, a great asset for any serious manufacturing employee.
Don’t let the uncertainty of the future scare you away from becoming the best version of yourself you can be.
Take the necessary steps today to prepare for the inevitable changes of tomorrow by signing up for Manufacturing KnowHow now!