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Will Automation Replace Jobs in the Supply Chain?

Will Automation Replace Jobs in the Supply Chain?

December 2022


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Automation used to be an exciting sci-fi concept. Now it is happening all around us on every level daily — and we’re not just talking about self-checkout at the grocery store. 

Chatbots have become commonplace. Digital marketing uses automation to personalize and target consumer experiences. AI is helping with performance analytics. Everywhere you look, automation is enhancing and improving business activity. 

One area that will be interesting to watch moving forward is the supply chain. How much will automation continue to impact traditional supply chain behaviors as we go further into the 2020s …and should human workers in that sector be concerned? 

The State of Automation in the Supply Chain

Before going into details, let’s point one obvious thing out: there are few areas of business that are better suited for automation than the supply chain. The repetitive and simplistic nature of many aspects of supply chain activity makes it an easy area to automate.  

This makes automation in the supply chain an inevitability (and one that is already becoming a reality in many ways, as we’ll see in a second). The question is, how nuanced will automation become in the future? Will it remain something that fits in alongside the existing workforce, or will automation entirely replace workers over time? 

Let’s start the answer by considering some of the ways that automation is already having an impact on the supply chain. Right out of the gate, we have the splashy, newsy stuff, not the least of which is the fact that self-driving vehicles are already a reality. 

Less than a year ago, TuSimple announced that it had completed its first autonomous truck run between Tuscon and Phoenix — not far from the Stanton Chase Los Angeles office. In the months since then, self-driving vehicles have continued to inch toward everyday reality. For example, IKEA is already using a driverless truck in Texas. 

While fun for the news cycle, this is hardly the only place where automation touches the supply chain. Interlog USA points out that automation is already transforming TMS (transportation management system) software. It’s also impacting warehousing efficiency, cross-platform orchestration, and security, all of which benefit from cleaner, more organized systems. 

The takeaway here? Automation is already in the supply chain. It’s having a positive impact, and it’s only likely to become more prevalent as time goes on.  

Automation in Supply Chain: A Wakeup Call for Workers

The benefits of automation are easy to see. But it also functions as a wake-up call for the workers who are in line to potentially be minimized or even outright replaced. At the risk of generalizing, automation can do one of two things to an existing human position. 

On the one hand, it can eliminate the need for humans to tend to mundane elements that take up a lot of time, freeing them up to focus on other things. On the other hand, it can replace the need for a human worker on every level. A warehouse manager that uses TMS software to do their job more effectively is an example of the former. A trucker replaced by a driverless vehicle is an example of the latter. 

In either case, there are two clear options that employees throughout the supply chain sector should consider as the impact of automation continues to grow: upskilling and reskilling.  

The two terms refer to improving existing skills and learning entirely new skills, respectively. Both are necessities in a professional world grappling with the perpetual process of digital transformation and the growing need for better worker retention.  

Along with benefiting businesses, upskilling and reskilling are also critical elements for employees striving to remain relevant in an evolving, automation-infused business landscape. They allow laborers to remain a productive necessity, whether that’s through using automated tools in existing jobs or learning new skills to shift into a fresh, less-automated career path. 

“Along with benefiting businesses, upskilling and reskilling are also critical elements for employees striving to remain relevant in an evolving, automation-infused business landscape.” 

Companies in the supply chain sector should take this approaching crisis between automation and workers seriously. As automation becomes more sophisticated, companies and individuals alike must proactively set the latter up to remain relevant and productive in an automated future. 

One of the best ways to do this effectively is by installing a quality CPO (Chief People Officer) or CHRO (Chief Human Resource Officer) to oversee and facilitate upskilling and reskilling initiatives.  

At Stanton Chase, we have extensive experience helping our clients find the best C-suite talent. We bring years of experience, sound recruitment tools, and a robust talent network to the table to help you find the ideal candidate for each vacancy — including CHRO and CPO positions. 

If your company is in the supply chain sector, it is important for workers and leaders alike to unite in preparing for an automated future. By upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce now, we can collectively set the stage for an automated, productive, and job-filled future. 

About the Author

Peter Deragon is a Managing Director at Stanton Chase Los Angeles. He is also the Global Practice Leader of our Supply Chain, Logistics, and Transportation Practice Group. Additionally, Peter is active in the CFO Practice Group and financial services, where he started his career.   

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