Self service checkouts stealing jobs...

I've read quite a few posts over the last year complaining about supermarket self service checkouts. These posts have been anything from a simple: "Don't use them" to forcing supermarkets to reinstate the regular checkouts with actual people serving customers. The reason for this blog post is not just about supermarkets, but the trend it highlights regarding the unrelenting progress of technology and the inevitable contraction of 'jobs' and resultant decline in spending power of a population with less money.

Differing perspectives

Times are changing of that there is no argument. The checkout situation above of course is right in our face every week when we pick up groceries. But of course we are all participating in the same kind of decline in regular retail as we switch to Amazon and huge online companies. Who do you think is responsible for the reduced customer numbers on the high street? ... Although a number of factors involved, this is much less obvious, but equally relevant to the check out staff example.

Taking a look at the customer in the supermarket. I think for many, providing the experience is hassle free (often it isn't), the self service section is both quick and convenient, with less queuing. For others, just having someone serve them is more appealing, and a chance to engage with a human, and this works best for them.

For the business, having 1 or 2 people looking after 10 or so checkouts is clearly more cost effective than having 10 people sitting at checkouts. After the initial cost of the 'Till' is paid for, the return on investment is quick and ongoing. Fewer holidays, fewer staff, routine maintenance only, one can see the business case is strong. Businesses are for profit and if this increases profit, it will a long time coming telling a business they can't implement cost saving technology, whatever the consequences on employing people.

... and that is the next point. Less employees required. While this may be undesirable we can't stop technology and progress. The point is that nowadays a machine can replace the need for a checkout operator... and even MORE IMPORTANTLY ... online ordering and subsequent delivery can remove the need for a shop ENTIRELY. Actually we are on the path to even further, and many more drastic changes to both food and other styles of shopping.

What if businesses were forced to keep checkout operators?

Let is imagine what intervening in this process of technology replacement might look like. This applies in any sector... Paralegal's, Bookkeepers, Journalism, Programming, Retail, as well as supermarkets (checkout operators and the whole shop itself).

For the businesses, if they were forced to retain staff and not implement technology (such as AI) then very quickly they would become noncompetitive and a dinosaur in their industry, swiftly followed by being 'out of business' with more job losses. The same would be true in the highly competitive supermarket sector.

But can you imagine doing a job, for which you know there is an automated tool which you know is a lower cost and perhaps, an even more effective solution? Where on earth would be the self worth and value. You would hardly be doing something that requires your skills, where would the job satisfaction be? ... and every day the business owners resenting more and more your presence... could you imagine the disdain as a result of asking for a day off or even asking for time out to go to the doctors?  I don't think many of us would like to work in an environment like this.

Jobs Trend

Regardless of whether we are for automation or otherwise the bottom line is that businesses will automate wherever possible. Automation costs less, it's more efficient and always on 24/7 work (if needed) without all the issues that humans bring... unless... the industry is about providing services directly to humans, like the care sector, or hospitality. These oldest industries will take the longest to automate because of their very nature. These roles will be here and expanding for a while to come.

Just think of the implications for the driverless auto's industry. Taxis and Goods transportation for a starter... How many people are in these two industries as drivers?

If we start to take away these jobs, and more importantly the disposable income and the taxes paid, what are the ramifications?  There definitely isn't going to be enough replacement roles or jobs, so what will happen?

Whatever happens this is likely to result in a contraction of the economy. Less money, Less buying, Less goods needed, Less production... a contraction spiral.

...... How can we stop it?

The existing framework and thinking isn't designed for anything different. We've been doing things like this for 300 years. There are different type of companies now, such as employee owned, community interest companies and other flavours.

But possibly the answers lay in a more community centric distributed model where more of what we need is produced locally in the communities where we live. Perhaps this will also serve to remove the need for centralising everything and then huge complex distribution networks. With less money, less costs are appealing... so producing things where they will be consumed makes perfect sense... How can this be done? ... it needs more water to pass under the bridge that's for sure.

I just saw figures that over 5 million people are now self employed in the UK... Perhaps these people signify the beginning of the switch to a different kind of world outside the rat race and providing localised products and services for those local to them... maybe the sign of things to come!


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