Local Goodwill hires new employees to work with robots in unique partnership

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some employees are back to work amid the pandemic. Goodwill of Western Missouri & Eastern Kansas has created new jobs in a first-of-its-kind partnership.

In the future, your donations will be sorted by robots working alongside humans. Meghan Chaney is the first group to be trained on how to use them.

“I was actually surprised. I didn’t think it was going to be that simple,” Chaney said.

Robots have never been on her resume, but now she’s learning all about how they work and how to work with them.

It’s part of Goodwill’s partnership with York Exponential. The Pennsylvania company builds robots to work alongside people. CEO John McElligott heads a training program for people to use the technology.

“What this artificial intelligence is going to be doing is identifying defects, type, brand of clothing to allow Goodwill to process a larger amount of clothing that are donations as well as being able to pivot to a more e-commerce model,” McElligott said.

Chaney worked at Goodwill before the pandemic hit but got furloughed and then laid off. She said it was scary, and it still is. However, she was excited to get the call to come back and work on this initiative.

The robots will take high quality photos of each donated item from multiple angles. Then employees can check them for quality. The goal is to get items processed for online sale and make sure the quality is up to snuff.

“The fact that you can have a robot to determine if the clothing is good and resalable or not, I think is going to be huge not only for Goodwill, but for other retail stores as well,” Chaney said.

“The hope is that every Goodwill will have a data acquisition station or multiple of them, meaning we’ll have to train a new generation of technicians and specialists to work along side them,” McElligott said.

They’ve hired eight workers so far, but hope to expand. 

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