“You can bring in a less skilled employee and let them adapt to our system much more easily,” said Ryan Hillis, vice president of Meltwich. “It definitely expands the range you can have behind that grill.”
With more advanced kitchen equipment, software that allows online orders to go directly to restaurants, and other technological advances, Meltwich only needs two to three workers in a shift instead of three or four. , Mr. Hillis said.
Such changes, multiplied across thousands of businesses in dozens of industries, can dramatically change the outlook for workers. Professor Warman, the Canadian economist, said technologies developed for one purpose tend to spread to similar tasks, which can make it difficult for workers harmed by automation to move. to another profession or industry.
“If the entire labor sector is affected, where will those workers go?” Professor Warman said. Women, and to a lesser extent people of color, are likely to be disproportionately affected, he added.
The grocery business has long been a source of steady, regular work for those without a college degree. But technology is changing the field. Self-checkout lanes have reduced the number of cashiers; many stores have simple robots that patrol aisles for spills and check inventory; and warehouses are becoming increasingly automated. In April, Kroger opened a 375,000-square-foot warehouse with more than 1,000 robots packing groceries for customers to deliver. The company is even testing grocery delivery using drones.
Other companies in the industry are doing the same. Jennifer Brogan, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, a New England-based grocery chain, says technology allows the company to better serve customers – and that’s what competition demands.
“Competitors and other players in the retail sector are developing technologies and partnerships to reduce costs and provide improved service and value to customers,” she said. “Stop & Shop needs to do the same.”