Advancements in automation continues to shift jobs in the market - News - Herald Democrat

As technology continues to advance, automation continues to become a reality in more industries than ever before. Businesses introducing new technologies to make the shopping experience easier for customers are looking for new ways to utilize the employees who are displaced by those innovations.

Major retailers are implementing self checkout all across the country and Grayson County is no exception.

From department stores to fast food restaurants, customers are increasingly being asked to step up to the register as their own cashier.

McDonald’s in Sherman has a kiosk that uses a touch screen to allow customers to order items and pay without having to step up to the front counter. Walmarts across the area have been adding self check out stations along with automated self pickup lanes that allow a customer to place an order on from their internet connected device and pickup their groceries.

As these changes take place, employers have to find new ways to keep employees busy.

Walmart Spokesperson Ragan Dickins said their technology strategy is two-fold. He said the first step is to make the shopping experience as convenient as possible for the customer. Whether that is opening more self checkout lanes, home delivery or the automated pick up, he said those options are designed to help get customers in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Even the associates on the floor now carry scanners on their person to quickly check out a customer who has just a few items.

Dickins said the second purpose of the technology is to free up the associates to provide better customer service in store. He said in the last three years as the company has introduced more automation it has added 50,000 jobs nation-wide with 5,000 current front of store associate openings listed at this time.

“Some customers may choose a different shopping experience,” Dickins said. “In the last three years we hired over 50,000 people that are doing personal shopping in the stores. That is over 50,000 new roles that did not exist a few years ago. You can see new positions there. When stores add self check out the work is shifted around the store as well. You will see associates helping customers. You will see some of it shift to online pickup and delivery. The picking of the personal shoppers as we call them, you will see some of that fulfillment on the floor. It is about where is the work for that store based is on customer demand. From a customer stand point it is all about optionality.”

Dickins said another feature some stores are starting to see are robotic scanners that assist with stocking shelves and inventory. He said it is all about finding ways to free up the associates to be ready to assist the customer.

Sherman Economic Development Corp. President Kent Sharp said he believes there are fewer workers at firms that have adopted self-serve and self-checkout but he said the number is negligible versus the overall economy.

“These employees are easily absorbed into the local labor market,” Sharp said. “Evidence of this is the fact that our unemployment rate still continues to be a record low 3 percent. I also know that while retailers can be early adopters of technology, we have noticed some of our larger and smaller manufacturers adopting technology which increases output. Instead of reducing the number of employees these companies have, they instead are retraining many of them to use the new technology, for example robots and high speed machinery.”

Target Communications spokesperson Aryn Ridge said Target is using technology in ways to improve the shopping experience.

“Our guests love to shop,” Ridge said. “So we’re continuing to make the checkout experience easy and quick - giving them more time to be inspired, discover new products or check things off their list. Since one-third of our guests choose self-checkout, we’ve added self-checkout stations in all of our stores to give more guests a fast and autonomous alternative. Many of our guests still appreciate the full-service experience, so we continue to offer a majority of standard check lanes.”

Ridge said the team members are seen as the company’s number one asset who drive the shopping experience.

“Offering self-checkout lanes means we can move more of our team to the sales floor, where they provide elevated service to our guests as they shop. While rolling out more self-checkout stations, we continue to increase our team member count.”

Sherman Chamber of Commerce President Eddie Brown said he believes the shift in technology does open opportunities for more options not fewer. He pointed to the increasing number of technology related programs at the area schools that are preparing students to be the workforce of the future. Brown said about 75 percent of its membership is small business which he said are the ones who drive job growth now and in the future.

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