The Writing on the Wall

I have been heard to say that I would not recommend transitioning careers to teaching in one’s middle age. This is, predominately, because the pay scale and benefits are structured so that they really only work if one starts out in the profession right out of college, young, single and hopefully unencumbered by dependents (or student loans). You then must stay in the profession working diligently to be an effective, or better still, highly effective teacher, so that you receive annual ‘step’ increases in your wage and continue to put matched money away in the teacher’s retirement fund. I was, quite frankly, horrified to find out that some states require teachers to opt out of social security leaving them to rely on increasingly underfunded pension plans. Thankfully I do not live/teach in one of those states as social security will be my main source of income when I retire.

If you transition to teaching in the middle (or later) of your working life you start at the same salary as the 23 year old fresh out of college, regardless of your previous life or work experience. And you crawl up the ladder very slowly from there. Which, of course, combined with medical bills, car repairs, and a child who needed braces, was why I took on a 2nd part-time job cashiering at a grocery store. While this job pays slightly better than minimum wage, and even includes some minor benefits ($5,000 life insurance, 10% discount on name brand products), it only works as a 2nd job. You could not make a living doing this, even full-time (although I believe you would get more benefits).

And peering into the future, I would like to recommend young people against pinning their hopes on being a retail cashier for a living when they grow up. I have reason to believe that this job is headed towards obsolescence.  Earlier this year Amazon made headlines when it opened its Amazon Go store, a checkout-free store, to the public. And the CEO of Jack in the Box has said that he could foresee replacing human cashiers with robots within 4 years (if wages for those humans were to go up). A fully autonomous shopping cart (Dash Cart) that escorts you through the store based on your uploaded shopping list, deducts the total from your payment of choice and accompanies you to your car was unveiled by its inventor in January. “Once these robots are in the stores, we will not be able to imagine how we ever shopped without them,” says the CEO of Five Elements Robotics.

Closer to home there’s been a flurry of training at the grocery store, centered on a program that allows shoppers to check  out a hand-scanner when they enter the store, scan their items and place them in bags, and check out through the self-checkout lane by downloading their cart contents. No cashier or bagger needed. Yes, there will be an attendant to assist with items that require an ID check such as alcohol and tobacco, and gift cards but there won’t be a need for as many attendants as there currently are cashiers. I went through this training recently, and today was trained on the U-scan (self-checkout) and one of the notable things I learned was that the store currently (before the robots take over) has a goal that nearly half of all customers go through the self-checkout. And they track how well they are doing.

Between the online ordering/curbside pick-up, the self-checkout and soon to be implemented self-scan and bag program, the need for cashiers will diminish. The current stressful climate of monitoring how many items per minute each cashier scans (27/minute on average goal), along with ‘efficiencies’ that make that goal impossible to obtain (such as keeping the tax exempt forms at customer service instead of at each till so that the cashier has to run and collect the form each time a non-profit customer comes through – and let me tell you, a university town teems with non-profit customers), plus the recent cutting back of hours, will no doubt cause a natural winnowing of the number of cashiers as people leave for better positions.

I’m hoping to be one.

Mamas, don’t let your children grow up to be retail cashiers! Instead I recommend they take computer science classes!


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