As of 2019, the global warehouse automation market — that is, programmable machines that pick, sort, and return goods to their shelves, as well as sensor- and AI-based tools that simplify tasks for warehouse workers — was worth about $15 billion. That number is expected to double within the next four years, with supply chain leaders in an internal Accenture survey citing warehouse automation as one of their top three priorities for digital investment. Clearly, the industry has huge growth potential. But what does this mean for the millions of workers who currently work in warehouses around the world?
We then conducted a sentiment analysis and leveraged standard data science techniques to extract key themes from the responses. We found that overall, sentiment was about 40% negative and 60% positive, and we further identified a number of recurring concerns and hopes: On the negative side, workers were worried about losing their jobs, having inadequate training resources, and dealing with downtime or errors caused by technology malfunctions. On the positive side, workers expressed optimism that automation would make their jobs safer, increase productivity, and improve the quality of their work.
In our analysis, 42% of the responses categorized by our models as “negative sentiment” were related to fears around job loss. Two respondents from China — Xin, a warehouse packer, and Chensi, a warehouse supervisor — used the exact same phrase to express their fears, saying: “this choice [to use robots] may cause us to face unemployment.” Heather, a warehouse clerk at a global logistics company based in the UK, wondered about her future, commenting: “I don’t mind working side by side to a robot, but I feel that sometimes my job is being pushed out to robots.”