100 years ago, nearly 40% of all US jobs were in agriculture. Today, the figure is 2%. The same dynamic happened in manufacturing, which in the 1950s dominated work, but since then has receded as a mass employer. Technology made it happen then, and technology shows no evidence of slowing down now.

What lies ahead for work, and how will supply chain careers evolve in the next decade? Digitization is having disruptive effects on managerial, logistics and other supply chain functions. Automation in plants, fulfillment centers, and areas like procurement, production planning and maintenance is eliminating jobs. And yet overall hiring continues to rise and senior leaders say that finding and hiring the right talent is harder than ever.

Is this a paradox?

Technology Work Paradox: The ATM Story

The work paradox in supply chain is much like a phenomenon described in a brilliant TED talk by MIT professor David Autor on automation and employment. Autor retells how in the 1970s before banking ATMs were introduced, there were about 250,000 bank tellers in America. Today, there are 500,000.

The reason that jobs expanded rather than disappeared was that ATM-enabled cost savings in branch operations allowed banks to open more branches, creating a net increase in new positions. The work itself changed from rote, low-value tasks to a relationship-intensive sales and problem-solving role. Banks saw business benefit from these newly empowered tellers and hired more. Automation changed the work, and probably enhanced careers.

In supply chain, two potentially impactful digital technologies are now asserting themselves across industries. Advanced robotics and machine learning are clearly able to automate rote, low-value work in supply chain functions today by doing everything from packing cartons to approving orders. In fact, growth in acceptance of these technologies as important to supply chain strategy is impressive everywhere.

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