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Will Amazon Go Eliminate Jobs? Expert Says Probably Not

Amazon is testing a grocery-store model that operates without cashiers. (Robert Scoble/Flickr)
Amazon is testing a grocery-store model that operates without cashiers. (Robert Scoble/Flickr)
December 8, 2016

SEATTLE – Amazon is testing a new model for grocery stores in Seattle that operates without cashiers, and that has some wondering if it should be called "Amazon Go" – or "Amazon Goodbye Jobs."

The grab-and-go market uses cameras and sensors to track what shoppers buy, and automatically charges customers’ accounts when they leave. That could cause anxiety for the 3.5 million cashiers employed in the United States.

But Maureen Conway, executive director of the Economic Opportunities Program at the Aspen Institute, said it shouldn't.

"Some things get automated, but there's also a shift in how people are buying things through retail channels and how they're engaging,” Conway said. “What is the mix of technology and human interaction that's going to make that experience a great experience for customers?"

Conway said the shift toward automation in the workforce could just mean a shift in the skill sets of workers. And, she said it's an opportunity for businesses to consider how they interact with their employees.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cashiering is the second most-common occupation in the U.S.

A shift in skills could mean many in the workforce will need new training and education. Conway said the country needs to work harder to provide realistic learning opportunities for its aging population, such as providing programs that reach adults at work.

"Truth is, we've been talking as a country about the need for people to be adaptable and to have a lifelong learning system and we just haven't really made it true,” she said. "We keep going back to how do we reach kids in school."

Conway said it's also important to keep in mind that automation in one sector of the economy actually affects everyone.

"It's kind of a shared problem, right? We shouldn't just sort of leave them to sit on their own with it and say, 'Huh, let's see what they come up with,’" she said. "Businesses should be engaged in, 'How do we keep people productively participating in the economy?' The public sector should be engaged, the social sector should be engaged."

Conway also reminded those workers anxious about the new store that automation of the workforce is a long evolution, rather than an overnight revolution.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA