AI isn’t taking away logistics jobs, it’s just handling important stuff that nobody wants to do

The logistics industry suffers from two fundamental challenges and AI is poised to solve both of them at once.

Greg Kefer

Hardly a week goes by without various prognosticators telling their 100,000 social media followers that AI is going to take your job. Of course, there are others declaring the terminator moment is upon us, while the optimists are predicting a new golden age of technology that will benefit everyone.  

One thing is for sure; advancement of technology, where machines are able to learn, adapt, and operate in areas that were previously the domain of human beings, has arrived. There has been no shortage of ‘wow’ moments over the past few years and it is safe to say, things are just getting started.

The advent of language as an interface between humans and machines has been the thing that has captured everyone’s attention. Whether it’s asking a machine to draw a cow sitting on the moon or requesting an 800-word essay on the history of Hawaii, that simple verbal prompt and near instant response is what got everyone talking and wondering what’s next.

Artificial Intelligence is now a full-blown, bona fide technology inflection point.

Is my job really on the way out?

Through the history of innovation, way before there was such a thing as a computer, jobs and entire industries were disintermediated by something better. There are countless examples, but here are just a few:

  • Jet air travel emerged in 1958 and replaced ocean liners for transatlantic travel
  • Automobiles and trucks replaced railroads in US transportation
  • Digital cameras put an end to Kodak and film processing
  • Expedia helped eliminate the need for travel agents to book vacations

In every scenario, hundreds of thousands of jobs ceased to exist. At the same time, new career paths were being created. In 1970, Silicon Valley was farmland. Today, that part of the Bay Area employs more than 500,000 very well-paid workers, and is home to 200 of the 500 largest companies in the world. 

AI will most certainly start taking over tasks that are currently handled by human workers. It will take time and could eventually end a number of career paths, but the preliminary, high-value opportunity zone will be targeted at high-volume, low-value administrative tasks that are most often handled by small armies of low paid workers.

For example, call centres have been in the cross hairs of technology disruptors for years because they are very expensive to build and maintain. By the time an agent reaches a point of being a competent customer support representative, they’re burnt out and ready for a different job, which results in a costly, never-ending cycle of recruiting, training, and terrible experiences for customers who call in for help.

Companies have tried offshoring call centres to lower-cost regions but that didn’t really solve the core problem – regardless of where one lives, sitting in a giant room of cubes, staring at a screen, and getting yelled at all day by angry customers is still a terrible job.

Today, AI-powered digital assistants that communicate with well-crafted messaging are maturing and taking on more of the call centre burden, freeing the human teams to focus on the high-value, low-volume corner cases. There are still plenty of great jobs related to delivering the next generation call centre, but the future just isn’t focused on doing the calls themselves.

Greg Kefer
Logistics AI: addressing industry volatility and data quality

The logistics industry suffers from two fundamental challenges and AI is poised to solve both of them at once.

First, freight volumes are in a constant state of flux which creates a never-ending cycle of boom and bust for the providers. The COVID pandemic era sparked a frenzy in the logistics sector. Companies went on a hiring spree, bringing on approximately 1 million new workers. Two years later, things were going in the other direction and the sector entered a significant slowdown, which resulted in bankruptcies and layoffs. This is a common occurrence that makes it hard to create and maintain a good pool of skilled talent.

Second, the business IT side of logistics is a domain of exchanging information (data) between partners. Some supply chains have thousands of partners, each with their own systems and data formats. After 30 years of trying, it’s safe to assume it is impossible to get everyone on the same information standards. So, communication is primarily via email and unstructured documents which require expensive human teams to read and rekey into various systems of record - a slow, error-prone process.

AI can solve both of these challenges at the same time. AI can complete the mundane, repetitive task of scanning email boxes, opening attachments, and then rekeying dates, numbers, codes, locations, rates, and other data fields into a Cargowise TMS system. Human workers will still be needed to validate and approve, but a lot of the heavy lifting is being done for them by AI, and at light speed.

This is already happening in parts of most global supply chains and getting better as each transaction trains the models. A recent study by 451 Research, a sister company of Journal of Commerce by S&P Global, found that 84% of LSPs are either using AI, piloting it, or plan to do so in the next two years.

As the next boom-bust cycle occurs, logistics companies will not be saddled with a huge labour force that has nothing to do when volumes drop but rather an AI-charged operation centre that blends unlimited scale, flexibility, and digital precision with a team of experts whose prime focus is delivering customer value.

A Raft customer recently made this comment, which sums up the opportunity perfectly: “How do we get our people doing more freight forwarding and less keyboarding?”

While it’s possible and likely AI will eliminate the lowest end, grinding data entry jobs, it’s also likely going to create better careers. It may become the vital missing link that finally allows the entire industry to fully leverage the power of modern, smart technology so they can get off their heels for the first time ever.

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