Warehouses are Stocked with Workers, But Can They Deliver?

Transportation and Warehousing is an industry divided. As ecommerce retailers and logistics companies ramp up hiring for the holiday shopping season, the disconnect between warehouse and transportation jobs is perhaps more starkly defined than ever.

Put simply, storage and distribution centers are having zero trouble finding willing workers to fill open roles, even with today’s ridiculously low unemployment. Transportation companies, on the other hand, are desperate to fill empty driver’s seats to meet the delivery demands of one of the most prosperous consumer bases in history.

It’s hard not to think that the mismatch between warehouse workers and the drivers transporting the goods has something to do with artificial intelligence (AI). After all, autonomous vehicles in the form of self-driving forklifts and drones already have a major presence in most large-scale warehouse operations. But self-driving cars, especially tractor trailers, have yet to reach the level of autonomy necessary to replace the old-fashioned trucker.

As of this August, ZipRecruiter data shows drone jobs increased nearly 250% year over year. Autonomous vehicle jobs increased even more, jumping a staggering 500% since last August. When we studied the job descriptions for these newly-created high-tech roles, we found that many of the companies hiring in these fields specialize in automating the warehouse end of the supply chain.  

Thus, demand for drivers continues to soar, especially heading into the holiday season. But warehouse job opportunity is scarce in most metros across the country. That is, unless Amazon has plans to open shop.

Drivers Wanted

Job openings along every stop of the way, from long-haul truck drivers to delivery drivers, have steadily increased over the past several years, thanks to the rise of ecommerce. But the simmering labor shortage has reached a boiling point as the holiday season draws near.

Truck Driver openings posted to ZipRecruiter in August 2017 increased 85% year over year, which is obviously phenomenal growth. However, the number of job seekers applying for Truck Driver roles back then increased 100% over the same period. So, despite the surge in openings last August, there were still fewer Truck Driver jobs available than applicants, with about two job seekers chasing every Truck Driver job.

The data for this year tells a very different story. Truck Driver openings continued to increase at an impressive clip, up 130% year over year in August, and jumping 17% since July. While demand continues to surge, the number of applicants has essentially remained unchanged since a year ago, leaving 1.5 job openings for every applicant—an alarmingly low supply of drivers as we approach a potentially record-breaking holiday shopping season.

Warehouse Workers Aplenty

A major reason why logistics companies are in such dire need of drivers is because the facilities warehousing consumer goods are staffed up and ready to ship.

Just as in all “declining” industries, such as retail and manufacturing, warehouse jobs are still being added each month, thanks to a strong economy and robust consumer spending. However, there are far more applicants than openings, which means most storage and distribution centers will not suffer from the historically tight labor market this season.

Warehouse jobs posted to ZipRecruiter increased a healthy 75% year over year in August, and showed a marked seasonal bump as well, with openings up 20% since July. Notwithstanding the many new warehouse jobs added in August, there were still four applicants competing for every job. To put that in perspective, nearly a quarter of a million job seekers competed over about 50,000 active jobs on ZipRecruiter in August.

The Amazon Effect

Even though Amazon is at the forefront of the AI revolution, having already implemented drone technology and giant robotic arms to perform many of the logistical tasks at their distribution centers, they are operating at such an enormous scale that they still need thousands of humans to perform the tasks for which robots aren’t equipped.

When we looked at our warehouse job openings at the metro level, we found all but four metros showed annual declines, and three of the four metros where jobs increased compared to last August are all future locations of new Amazon distribution centers.

With 106% growth in warehouse jobs this August, Baton Rouge, LA had the largest annual increase of all the metros we studied. News recently broke that Amazon is already hiring warehouse staff for their new, 21,000 square-foot distribution center in Baton Rouge, which is expected to be up and running in the first quarter of 2019.

Warehouse jobs grew 43% year over year in rural North Carolina, where Amazon plans to build a new distribution facility and is set to hire 1,500 employees. Warehouse openings also spiked 21% over last year in Provo, UT, which is just outside of Salt Lake City, where Amazon has begun hiring for a new distribution center slated to open by the end of the year.

But the droves of applicants hoping to grab warehouse work this season can’t all rely on Amazon for a job. Given the labor shortage in transportation, and demand for customer service reps at brick and mortar retail establishments, there’s no reason why they should be left out in the cold.


Written by

Jeffery Marino is a Los Angeles-based writer who previously covered emerging job market trends using proprietary ZipRecruiter data.

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