Trade jobs in Southern California have jumped, but policy and labor challenges loom

Southern California has experienced a boost in trade and logistics employment in the last decade, but policy and labor challenges lie ahead, according to a new economic report.

Trade-related jobs increased nearly 10% from 2005 to 2015, more than double the overall regional employment increase of 4.2%, the report released Monday by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. found.

Warehousing and logistics jobs led the charge, jumping 55.1% over the decade, said the report, titled “Trade & Logistics in Southern California.”

The growth came at a cost, however. Wages in warehousing dropped 9% during the period, compared with an increase of almost 3% in the industry overall, which includes the highly paid dockworkers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s largest cargo complex.

The average trade industry worker still made more than $63,000 in 2015, about 14% higher than the average wage for other industries in the area.

Shannon Sedgwick, an economist with the L.A. County Economic Development Corp., attributed some of the employment growth to the decentralization of warehousing and distribution. Consumers are demanding faster shipping, which forces companies to move warehouses closer to population centers to save time and money.

“Distribution is becoming more localized, and more localized growth means more new facilities,” Sedgwick said. “That means job growth.”

The job growth has also coincided with major technological advancements in the industry that increase productivity.

Automation and robotics technology enables companies to “maximize their footprint” by stacking products in warehouses, Sedgwick said. These facilities often reach above 40 feet and use automated vertical tracking systems to place pallets higher than previously possible with older systems.

For now, these machines don’t hinder jobs because laborers are still needed to pick many items and move them onto trucks.

“When they create a robot that accurately and efficiently picks the order … that will be a drag on job growth,” Sedgwick said.

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