An October 2019 survey about automation and the future of work showed that, for the time being, most U.S. workers feel their jobs are relatively safe from automation. Of the 1,500 U.S. workers surveyed nationwide, more than 75 percent said they do not view their jobs as being at risk of elimination due to new automation technologies in the next decade. And they're right. Automation isn't shrinking the human workforce; it's helping us do more with the same number of people.

It's Enhancing the Human Workforce

There's this pervasive fear that A.I. technology and automation are going to unilaterally replace humans in the workforce, and it's just not true. In his TEDx Talk, Pedro Uria-Recio, who spearheads digital and A.I. innovation for corporations and startups, brilliantly said, "A.I. does not automate jobs. It automates certain skills in jobs." While A.I. is not synonymous with automation--A.I. is machines mimicking human behavior and intelligence, while automation focuses on streamlining repetitive, instructional tasks without human intervention--Uria-Recio's point applies equally.

The move toward automation, in most cases, simplifies monotonous, physical, and quantitative tasks where there is no room for any interpretation. These are the types of tasks that can be executed with automation, pushing the people who previously managed them to learn, develop, and refine the uniquely human skills required to move up the ladder. Such skills include empathy, ideation, creativity, social aptitude, and judgment.

Dotcom Distribution's clientele comprises brands whose fulfillment process is what we call high-touch, but we've always incorporated useful automation tools. Early on, we replaced hand-labeling and hand-manifesting packages with conveyors and print-and-apply machines to enhance efficiencies, redeploying the employees who used to manage those functions to other areas, like picking and experiential packing. Now, in the face of an e-commerce revolution, we are looking at implementing A.I.-based technology to optimize areas like slotting and inventory management. The people assisting in those roles will manage the tools and use the data to drive efficiencies in the warehouse. 

It Creates New Jobs

It's no secret that manufacturing jobs have long been shipped overseas to save on costs. But today, advanced automation is playing a role in creating new manufacturing jobs. As this technology becomes better and cheaper, it has become more feasible to build things domestically, allowing smaller companies to lower unit costs of production, thereby gaining a competitive edge. This leads to business growth, which typically necessitates more, and higher-paying, jobs.

American bicycle manufacturer Kent International's story illustrates this theme beautifully. In 2014, Kent's CEO, Arnold Kamler, brought back 10 percent of the company's bike production from China to South Carolina, where he'd bought an abandoned factory, creating 140 jobs in a distressed industrial town. In an interview, Kamler explained the impact of the automaton technology he'd invested in, saying, "Typically, bicycle spokes are dropped into the hub one at a time by hand. This machine does it automatically and only in about 30 seconds. Using the same amount of people, we can do about three times as many hubs in a day."

When asked whether employees are threatened by the technology, Kamler said, "We're not replacing other jobs with these robots. What we're doing is we're adding more equipment that makes us more efficient." Kent production manager Albertus Jones added, "A lot of people have that misconception that automation decreases jobs. It's just a different type of job, a more skilled job."

The adoption of automated systems and machinery is creating opportunities for workers to transition into and grow within uniquely human roles. At Dotcom, it's creating jobs in our IT and maintenance departments, where redeployed employees are assuming roles where they are managing the software behind those machines and maintaining the equipment. 

It Improves the Customer Experience

When marrying automation with human employees, it's important to distinguish where the machine's job ends and personal contact begins. When it comes to the customer experience, automation of repetitive, routine affairs should be implemented as a means to enable human counterparts to focus on delivering value-add service and meaningful experiences. In other words, figure out what parts of the customer experience will benefit most from automation and address accordingly, equipping your people to jump in at critical moments to facilitate customer acquisition, conversion, satisfaction, and loyalty.

A customer's experience with a brand serves as catalyst for one of two things: future purchases or abandonment. Deliver an experience that proves you understand what they need, not just with your products, but with your process. Automation tools can make the customer experience more convenient, faster, and generally more enjoyable, prompting them to not only come back for more, but to encourage others to do the same.