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Pandemic may cause permanent job loss as e-commerce rises

Increased automation and online orders speed up a technological take over.

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Economist see the rise in automation jobs as a threat to current transactional ones.

"A transactional job is where one person takes a piece of paper and gives it to another person, people who move something a long in a process and collect money from someone," West Michigan economist Paul Isely said.

When people press checkout to deliver items they purchased in a cart, there is usually no human interaction involved. 

With the pandemic encouraging people to reduce human interaction, the e-commerce market soared.

McDonalds being one of the first fast food chains to automate its ordering services with a continued plan to soon automate it's drive thru services. It is just one company moving toward a low employee and high technological business model to help it cut cost.

Smaller businesses and local franchise owner still believe in the value of the employee and human interaction, but the pandemic has also caused an employee shortage as some stopped working due to fear of exposure.

"If someone can't get another stimulus check, they do have the opportunity to get a job and us small businesses will employ as many people as we possibly can to help them get a check, as long as we have the money to do so. If this small business were to shut down your letting go 13 employees, that's a lot of people out here in an already blood bath of unemployment," Benjamin Robinson, co-owner of the Kalamazoo Street location of Big Apple Bagels and sole owner of Robinson's Popcorn.

After already running his own popcorn shop, he knows the first order of business is digitizing the store front to delivery apps amidst the pandemic.

"In case there is another shut down, we want to be prepared," Robinson said.

Some critics say the transactional job of a cashier is not leaving just changing, as delivery and gig jobs increase. But as self check out becomes the norm in new and old grocers and Tesla and Uber keep funding and buying technology to help eventually automate cars, Isley says it's time for those workers to prepare for the future.

"There will be an upheaval in those types of jobs, when we come out of this recession, those jobs likely won't come back in the numbers that we previously saw them," Isely said. "People who are in those jobs need to really be thinking about how do I retrain, up the value chain."


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