For the moment, Amazon is in a unique position: it is operating at the forefront of warehouse automation while in the midst of a massive hiring spree.
The e-commerce giant, which currently employs 382,000 people globally, recently announced that it will open a second North American headquarters to house up to additional 50,000 employees. That’s not to mention the tens of thousands of open positions it is racing to fill at the massive warehouses comprising its “fulfillment network”, where workers pack and ship orders.
At the same time, it has more than 100,000 robots– some of which have been supplied by its subsidiary company Amazon Robotics– in its employ. Amazon first introduced robotics into its fulfillment centers in 2014. The robotic arms now do most of the heavy lifting at Amazon centers, displacing workers who used to perform the repetitive and physically taxing jobs, according to a recent The New York Times story.
Instead of relegating them to the unemployment line, automation has freed Amazon’s human workers to assume less tedious tasks like overseeing robots, troubleshooting issues as they come and correcting for any mistakes the robots make. Instead of lifting and stacking bins all day long, they also perform more mentally stimulating tasks like picking and packaging items to fill the varying orders of customers.
Amazon’s warehouses are proof for that for the foreseeable future, automation will not erase human labor from the equation and instead create new tasks for humans that robots can’t perform. For the time being, Amazon continues to expand its operations at a breakneck pace and hire more people. Last week, Amazon announced that it will open an order fulfillment center with 2,250 full-time employees in Staten Island to serve New York City– a move that was welcomed by New York politicians. The facility will provide “with opportunities for employees to engage with advanced robotics,” the company said in a statement.