Amazon to open robotics fulfilment centre in Alberta, hire 1,000 workers

Amazon is set to open a new robotics fulfilment centre in Parkland County, Alberta that will create more than 1,000 full and part-time jobs.

Amazon is set to announce the centre today and plans to open it by 2022. The facility will span more than 600,000 square feet.

“Amazon’s … new robotics fulfillment centre shows the momentum our province has in the technology space.”

A mix of robotics and warehouse workers, the new facility will be used to pick, pack and ship small items to customers such as books, electronics, and toys. The centre joins a handful of other fulfilment centres and warehouses Amazon has in Alberta.

News of the new facility comes as Teamsters Union is working to help Amazon logistics workers in Canada and the United States unionize.

The new centre marks the first Amazon robotics facility in Alberta, with the e-commerce giant calling the move “an important investment in the province’s growing technology sector and results in increased job growth and upskilling opportunities for Amazon employees.”

Since the launch of Amazon Robotics at fulfillment centers in 2012, after acquiring Kiva Systems, Amazon reports having created around 300,000 jobs globally. The robotics systems built into the facility operate alongside employees.

Amazon has faced continued criticism regarding its workplace safety, with COVID-19 presenting an increased risk for workers. Amazon postponed Prime Day earlier this year due to COVID-19 outbreaks at some of its facilities, including at its fulfillment centres in Ontario’s Peel Region, which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. In his final letter to shareholders, outgoing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has even called for the company to do better by its employees.

Amazon has stated plans to continue investing in “new logistics centers, jobs and workplace safety measures.” Pairing workers with robotic fulfillment systems has presented both positives and negatives for fulfillment employees.

In response to questions about worker safety and wellbeing, Amazon Canada regional director Vibhore Arora told BetaKit, “ensuring the safety of our employees is our number one priority. All of our technical equipment has gone through significant amounts of safety tests and employees working with these technologies go through the proper training before working with the robots.” He added that Amazon Robotics drive units work in a separate “robotic field” within the facility, with safety fencing, and each unit is equipped with specific technology for ensuring safe operation, speed control and emergency stopping capabilities.”

Regarding COVID-19 safety precautions he said Amazon has made “over 150 significant process changes to make sure we are keeping our team safe throughout each day, including new social distancing measures and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing across every site.” He pointed to Amazon Canada recently launching two employee wellness programs: WorkingWell and My Wellbeing.

“Collaborative jobs between robots and humans as full-fledged teammates have the potential to not just increase quality, make jobs safer and faster but to enable humans to be more creative, innovative, and cooperatively solve many of humanity’s greatest challenges,” said Alex Ramirez-Serrano, professor of the department of mechanical and manufacturing engineering at the University of Calgary.

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Amazon currently employs more than 3,600 full- and part-time operations employees in the Prairies and claims to have invested more than $600 million in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the new facility a “vote of confidence” in the province’s economy, as his government has been working to expand the tech ecosystem.

“Amazon’s vote of confidence in Alberta with their new robotics fulfillment centre shows the momentum our province has in the technology space while enhancing their customer experience and creating a thousand jobs,” said Doug Schweitzer, minister of jobs, economy and innovation.

Along with the facility, Amazon is also set to announce a donation of more than 200 “build-your-own robot kits” to community groups in the Parkland County area. The company said the goal of the donation is to provide “the resources necessary to introduce local youth to the world of robotics, unlock their imagination and explore a new challenge.”

“As we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, high-tech investments like this will continue to get people back to work as we diversify and look towards the future,” Kenney said. “Thank you to Amazon as well for the generosity you’ve shown to community groups in Parkland County with the donation of 200 robotics kits to support STEM learning.”

The facility and new hires come in addition to existing commitments from Amazon to increase its workforce in Canada. In June, Amazon revealed plans to hire for 1,800 tech and corporate roles across its Canadian offices by the end of 2021 as part of a broader commitment to add a total of 3,500 new corporate and tech jobs in Toronto and Vancouver. The retail firm currently employs over 23,000 full and part-time workers at fulfillment centres, corporate offices, development centres, and other facilities. Amazon has locations in British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, and Québec.

Image courtesy Amazon

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Associate Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.