Employment in warehousing and storage has grown by a whopping 50% since 2015, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Particularly in poorer areas where land is cheap and it makes sense to build storage facilities, warehouses are providing job opportunities for people with little education or work experience. In some towns, it has now eclipsed other industries as the leading employer.
The warehousing expansion has been fueled by growth in global trade and e-commerce. But it is unclear how long it can continue. In recent months, growth has slowed. The slowdown may be a temporary blip like the one we experienced in 2013, the result of a trade war and manufacturing slowdown. Or it is possible that the period of explosive growth may be over for good.
Turnover is notoriously high in warehousing jobs, due to relatively low pay and job satisfaction, paired with high rates of work-related injuries. Many of the jobs are staffing agency or contractor positions with limited benefits. Warehousing is also one of the industries with the greatest potential for automation.
New ten-year employment projections out from BLS estimate that employment in many warehousing occupations will be roughly the same in 2028 as it is now. The number of hand laborers and material movers, for example, is projected to rise from 4.10 million in 2018 to just 4.25 million by 2028, and the number of hand packers and packagers to fall from 673,000 to 650,000.
New warehouses will continue to open, but the number of workers per warehouse could fall as the most routine or unpleasant tasks are automated. Highly automated cold storage facilities offer a glimpse into the future. The overall result will be more modest growth in the quantity of work than we experienced over the past five years, but a distinct increase in the quality of work. Hand laborer positions will be replaced by jobs for machine operators, maintenance technicians, and even drone pilots–jobs that tend to be safer, require more technical training and pay more.