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Why Is Amazon Hiring Fewer Seasonal Workers? Blame the Robots, Analyst Says

Topics: Current Events
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Amazon plans to hire 100,000 holiday workers this year to work at its fulfillment centers across the country — 20,000 fewer than last year. Why the change? One analyst suggests that automation may be a cause.

“We’ve seen an acceleration in the use of robots within their fulfillment centers and that has corresponded with fewer and fewer workers that they’re hiring around the holidays,” Citi analyst Mark May told CNBC earlier this month.

May said that this marks the first time that Amazon has hired fewer seasonal workers than the year before.

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Amazon’s Response

Amazon said that the change was due not to automation, but to a focus on full-time hiring. In a statement to CNBC, the company said:

Since the last holiday season, we’ve focused on more ongoing full-time hiring in our fulfillment centers and other facilities. Overall, we are proud to have created over 130,000 new jobs in the last year alone. In last year’s hiring release, we shared we were hiring for 120,000 seasonal associates to join our team of 125,000 full-time fulfillment center employees. This year, we have 250,000 hourly workers and will be hiring for 100,000 seasonal associates – which shows hiring overall has increased with more of a focus on full-time regular employment in the fulfillment centers.

In a forum on leadership in April, Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, shared his opinion on the role of AI in the job market of tomorrow.

“Humans like to do things and we like to be productive and we will figure out things to do and we will use these tools to make ourselves more powerful,” Bezos said. “What I predict is that jobs will get more engaging. Because you have to remember, a lot of the jobs today are quite routine.”

Will a Robot Steal Your Job? It Depends

Many economists share Bezos’ view that the jobs most vulnerable to the robot incursion are the ones that involve repetitive labor.

Unfortunately, that describes a lot of today’s jobs. A 2013 Oxford working paper found that 47 percent of American jobs are in danger of being automated.

Researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne wrote:

The impact of computerisation on labour market outcomes is well established in the literature, documenting the decline of employment in routine intensive occupations – i.e. occupations mainly consisting of tasks following well-defined procedures that can easily be performed by sophisticated algorithms.

Jobs that are repetitive are most at risk. Those that require manual dexterity, creative intelligence or social intelligence are probably safe. Good news for audiologists, human resources managers and athletic trainers — all jobs identified as being relatively low risk in the paper — but bad news, perhaps, for fulfillment center workers.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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