Does Technology within the Cold Chain Threaten Jobs?

It is undeniable that there has been a technological evolution across Agribusiness in more recent years. With the UN’s sustainability goals and worldwide events like the Covid-19 pandemic all affecting the way in which the agricultural industry operates, things are changing fast, and so is the way we do things.

The emergence of concepts influenced by technology such as ‘drop and collect’, digital logistics that facilitates paperless, high-speed, and secure dispatch/delivery of shipments through networks are today’s reality. The sheer number of supply units being moved, how automated the process has become, these are all things that seemed unimaginable even a decade ago.

The end goal has always been for cold chain systems to operate faster, efficiently & transparently. However, in order to achieve any of these improvements we’ve needed to integrate technology throughout numerous stages of the post harvest cycle, as they improve the level at which we produce and meet demand.

Technology throughout the cold chain also has an incredible impact on the quality of fresh produce products and the speed at which they are both produced and supplied. Technology has also helped us manage the distribution of our goods and to have access to important insights into our markets and sectors, which helps in staying competitive. The truth is, technology is here, and if you’re not going to adopt it into facility operations, you’re making yourself redundant and obsolete by industry standards.

But what kind of impact does technology have on the labour market?

While businesses are actively using technology tools to optimise their supply chain with integrated and sustainable solutions – bottom line is, this process needs to be cost-effective to make sense. To invest in technology in a cost-effective manner, businesses tend to think the solution is in cutting down on the labour force while still producing at optimum levels.

In the past, business was obsessed with robotics and automation systems. Artificial intelligence (AI) was once a fantasy. Today, robotics and AI are normal and none of us have the liberty to ignore them. I say this not to come off as daunting but rather to let you know the good news.

Supply chain management and automation will most certainly benefit from features such as sensor technology, AI and robotics, however, these technological features are just that… features. Their purpose is to be utilised as a tool or component that aids in optimising human labour and reducing human error. There will always be a need for human involvement across the post harvest journey however.

Think about it this way, a sensor system may be able to monitor environment levels within a storage facility, possibly even activate relevant machinery in order to balance out dips in required levels, but it will never be able to account for human judgement and intervention on targeted fresh produce supplies.

So, how do we automate and keep humans? We equally invest in the machines and human beings. Train humans in new skills, especially those we identify as skilled workers that outwork tasks that machines are not yet capable of performing. There will always be something machines will not be capable of doing. While AI and bots can be used to automate process and productivity, human labour remains important in ensuring precision in customer satisfaction and a more ‘human’ interaction. This way, automation can create more jobs than it can get rid of. As AI becomes part of our lives, we need to rethink how we educate people and how we prepare them to work alongside an incredibly automated workplace. The more efficient our industries are the more opportunity to create support and leadership skills to automation for people.

To start educating yourself and others on post harvest matters, check out some of the courses in PostHarvest Learning.

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