Retail chiefs dismiss AI job threat, promise more training

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – directors of the major global retailers played down the threat to employment in the shops of artificial intelligence and automation on Thursday and promised more training to employees, take more high-quality jobs as machines take over their work.

FILE PHOTO: Self-checkout machines are seen in a supermarket of the Swiss retail group Coop in Zumikon, Switzerland on December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

The retail sector is one of the largest employers in many developed economies and experts have predicted automation puts millions of low-skilled jobs in the sector at risk, in particular the introduction of the self-checkout makes cashiers redundant.

“Technology can free people from repetitive tasks,” Barbara Martin Coppola, chief digital officer at Swedish furniture giant IKEA, told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Retail Congress, an annual industry gathering.

“These jobs have not disappeared. We are believers in the talent that we have in our home, and we look to reuse in more fulfilling tasks.”

Martin Coppola said IKEA should have a lot less people are selecting the goods displayed on the office of the website, known as online merchandising, such as algorithms for more sophisticated. But these people can be trained in digital marketing in the place.

“It is important to see technology as an enabler and not to let it be at the expense of the human beings and the planet,” she said.

Walmart, the world’s largest private employer with 2.2 million employees, it is adding self check-outs, and announced last month that the roll-out of automated shelf scanners, check the availability of the product, and cleaning robots.

“The cleaning of the floor is not a thing that brings a person fulfillment,” said Tom Faitak, Walmart senior manager for artificial intelligence, robotics and automation, adding that automating repetitive tasks gives employees more time to assist clients.

“Robots are not a great way of interacting with people,” he said. “Robots are good at doing the task over and over, not finding an item on the shelf.”

Walmart-staff who are freed up from a number of repetitive tasks are increasingly being deployed to pick up orders placed online, and prepare them for curbside pick-up.

The Consultants from McKinsey estimates that 53 percent of the activities in the retail sector are automatable, particularly in inventory management and logistics. It predicts that the next generation of automated supermarkets could see that the number of working hours for the inventory and the construction cut by two-thirds.

Walmart and Kroger – the largest U.S. supermarket chain say that they are committed to the development of their store employees, so that they are not behind.

Walmart offers training to tens of thousands of employees through an “Academy” program, while Kroger has launched a new scheme last year to promote secondary education, high school certificates to doctorates.

Kroger Chairman and Chief Executive Rodney McMullen, who started as a clerk in the chain and had his college education supported by the company noted that the US unemployment was the lowest for decades, the push of automation.

FILE PHOTO: A self-checkout kiosk is shown at a new Walmart Super Center prior to the opening in Compton, California, USA, January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

“It is a part of, because you simply can not find people,” he said,

mention that the company is creating higher-paid jobs in the software engineering as it seeks to modernise the company.

The Cincinnati-based company has built a robot-assisted warehouses and try to self-driving vehicles to improve the services.

Edited by Alexandra Hudson

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