When Coles recently announced it was spending $1 billion on two state-of-the-art automated warehouses, it would seem a logical leap to assume that jobs in warehouses will very soon be a thing of the past.
The reality is somewhat more complicated.
It’s true: simple warehousing roles involving “packing and stacking” are already harder to come by, as supply chains change at a rapid pace. But these same changes – driven in part by the boom in online shopping – mean those with skills in warehouse design and construction are suddenly hot property.
It’s a market segment Travis Erridge, co-founder of property and supply chain consultancy TM Insight knows well.
“Traditionally you’d have people with supply chain expertise working on that side of the business, and others with property expertise who would consider the types of properties that were needed. They were two different career paths,” he says.
But now, with customers demanding items to their door, and fast, the industry is shifting accordingly. For starters, warehouses are no longer relegated to the outskirts of large cities. Instead they are becoming increasingly “hyper local” to meet customers’ demands for speed.
“The next generation of shoppers want something bought and delivered within two hours. That means the industry needs people with strong back of house skills like logistics and transport for roles involving scheduling, movement and negotiations with couriers and freight processors,” Erridge says.
While automation may have killed off some jobs, it has increased the demand for others.
“There’s a huge growth in roles that are really a type of mechanical engineering to keep these machines working efficiently,” says Erridge, noting that many of the jobs being lost are the ones that were “dirty, dangerous or difficult” and traditionally hard to fill.
Changes in the industry have also led to an increased demand for skilled IT experts to work in warehousing environments.
“Warehouse control systems and warehouse management systems are becoming very high tech. They can predict things like when a bottle of water is needed at a store level: it can be demand planned from a supplier a week out,” Erridge says.
A digital shopping future also means an increasing need for already in demand data analysts, and others who have the skills to understand data and interpret it.
Even those in sales roles are about to become more aware of the importance of the once unsexy supply chain.
“A digital footprint means more roles for people at the front end of a website who can work out how to sell more product, quicker and better. The only way they will really be able to do that is to have really efficient supply chain backing it all,” Erridge says.