Although the country is enjoying the lowest level of unemployment in years, fast food chains are still having a hard time securing and retaining workers. Chains like Saladworks and Dunkin’ Donuts are seeking automated assistance to aid in offsetting a gap in a precarious hospitality industry, which had a record-high 844,000 unfilled positions as of April 2018.
Scott Murphy, Dunkin’ Donuts’ Chief Operating Officer told the Wall Street Journal he had never seen the labor market “this tight.”
“We spend a lot of time training people and a month later they walk out the door,” he said.
Usual fears around automation have been about robots taking human jobs and the consequent implications on employment and standards of living. A recent McKinsey report found that between 39 and 73 million jobs in the U.S. will be lost to automation by 2030. But this new twist of robots filling a void left behind by humans signals that employees are taking initiative and leaving jobs with redundant tasks. There is also a high level of awareness amongst job seekers. According to a 2017 study The Harris Poll conducted for Zip Recruiter on the State of the American Job Seeker, 2 in 5 employed job seekers (41%) believe their current job will be automated within their lifetime. And 64% of job seekers believe workers in most industries will be replaced with computers or robots in their lifetime.
Employers like Dunkin have started adapting. After conducting a focus group with former employees, to identify mundane tasks that prompted them to leave, the global donut company designed automation around those duties. Recently, it installed small stations for printing out expiration times, replacing an old practice of workers creating several hand-written expiration-date labels. Other companies like Wendy’s are turning to automation for menial tasks that workers detest such as cleaning bacon grease off ovens or washing utensils used for prepping food.