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Every week, it seems as if the spread of automation in the materials handling industry gets bigger and bigger.
As recently as this week, Amazon announced it was making a huge investment in Balyo, a French company makes self-driving forklift technology. In 2012, the world’s largest online retailer spent $775 million for Kiva Systems, a company that makes robots for warehouses, distribution centers, and docks.
Other companies have followed suit. All of which begs the question: What does the future hold for human forklift operators? Will there still be jobs a few years from now? How about in a decade from now?
Forklift Jobs — Developing Technologies
New technology in the forklift industry is nothing new. Recent years have seen the development of automated warning lights, backup alarms, and computer programs that track the location and productivity of forklift fleets in real time.
To see what the future holds, you don’t need to look any further than the floors of today’s cutting edge warehouse and distribution centers.
At places like Amazon, human employees typically work side-by-side with automated guided vehicles, robots, and other high-tech equipment that speeds up operations and minimizes mistakes. Because this technology is so efficient, future workplaces probably will see more of this type of materials handling equipment, including smaller operations that will be able to afford it once the price of the tech comes down.
Forklift Jobs — History Lessons
Established industries have always been impacted by technological advancements. In the early 20th Century, automobiles replaced the horse and buggy. In the 19th Century, electric lights made the massive whale oil industry essentially obsolete.
In the 21st Century, workers can expect similar shifts. But one thing remains the same: As one career door closes, another inevitably opens. While forklift operators may not have exactly the same duties in the future as they do now, there will always be a need for humans to move materials efficiently and safely.
For example, today’s forklift operators may one day run multiple forklifts — or even fleets of vehicles — using remote control consoles such as the kind video gamers use today, or use electronic tablets to track and control the inventory movement. Some may morph into problem solvers rather than physical materials movers. Still others may receive new training that offers new skills that can help advance both their careers and their employers’ operations.
While forklift technology is definitely advancing by leaps and bounds, don’t count human workers out just yet. Change takes time. And people adapt to changes in the workplace in the same way that industries adapt to new ways of doing things.