Industrial revolutions by definition alter the structure of global economies, making existing jobs obsolete and introducing new technologies that change, among other things, the face of employment. The modern industrial revolution, according to some observers, is the one that links automation with the Internet of things. In this new Industry 4.0, many jobs will be performed by machines, leaving a new set of employees without many job prospects.

For example, if new technology can sense the level of freshness of produce, it can select, pack, and ship it faster and more accurately than farmhands. If cranes can automatically weigh shipping containers, they can balance them appropriately on ships, which should reduce logistics costs but also may put shore workers out of a job.

Such developments require some advance planning if mass unemployment is to be avoided. However, planning along these lines is challenging, because no one can tell precisely what Industry 4.0 will look like or how it will affect individual industries. For workers, the best bet may be finding a way to market themselves as problem solvers, rather than laborers. Even the most advanced technology cannot surpass human intuition for certain tasks. In the retail sector, that might mean ensuring that the human touch remains a priority in every step of the supply chain—whether in early logistics, packing in the middle, or connecting personally with customers.

Discussion Question:

  1. What impact will Industry 4.0 have on the extended retail supply chain?

Source: Ron Margulis, Retail Wire, April 7, 2017