In Welcoming Amazon, Remember the Call Centers

Amazon’s more than 1,000 full-time jobs with comprehensive benefits at new fulfillment centers in Hillsborough County and Lakeland, Florida are welcomed additions to central Florida’s economy right now as the economy continues to recover. However while we can celebrate a win let’s remember that unless we keep evolving and bringing innovation to the I-4 corridor this will be only a temporary win.

Many of the warehouse jobs will be low-skill positions involved in sorting and picking customers’ orders. Many of these jobs will eventually be replaced by robots as Amazon’s automation efforts mature with time. While news reports like Bloomberg’s report on Amazon’s Robotic Future: A Work in Progress stress that automation will not replace human warehouse workers  it would be naive to believe that with time the cost and efficiency of automation will not eventual edge out a large number of the human employees in these fulfillment centers.

Remember the Call Centers

In the 1990’s, the Internet was still defined by obnoxious modem connection noises and receiving an America Online CD in the mail. Call centers across the country promised full-time employment and job security. Then the price of Internet connectivity dropped while speeds increased exponentially.

With lower Internet costs, call centers in India became popular with corporations looking to cut costs and increase profitability. American customer service jobs were lost to “outsourcing” overseas.

Today companies like Capital One have learned that having a familiar American voice on the customer service line improves the customer experience and have been bringing jobs back.

Warehouses are Behind the Scenes

The lost call center jobs that had front line contact with customers received a customer backlash that incentivized bringing many of them back. Lost warehouse jobs like the lost manufacturing jobs in America’s automotive industry are behind the scenes and won’t be missed by customers. While full scale warehouse automation might be a decade away we can certainly celebrate the current jobs gained – but must continue to innovate to bring more high level engineering jobs.

Maybe USF can work with Kiva Systems which was purchased by Amazon and help lead the way to automation.

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