For more than 400 years, automation has been perceived as a threat to skilled human labor. The invention of new machines that perform more quickly and efficiently than human hands brings more efficient ways of doing things, which theoretically translates to fewer jobs. Or does it?
Investing in automation has actually created jobs for some U.S. manufacturers by facilitating growth. In replacing the jobs that humans have historically performed most inefficiently with automation, business can divert that labor into other channels where it is of higher value to the function and bottom line of the company. Manufacturers are able to focus on different types of clients and provide specialized services that they previously could not. This leads to higher demand and an expanded client base. An expanded client base must, however, be managed and their needs met – which is creating demand for new workers, particularly those with engineering backgrounds. The crux of building a bigger, better robot and maintaining it properly, is the manpower required to do so.
Reshoring Back to the USA
Despite a lot of concern about the United States manufacturing industry being able to remain competitive with that of places like China, a report released by the McKinsey Global Institute indicates that the United States is increasingly becoming one of the least expensive places to manufacture goods in the world. Automation is a big reason for this. As U.S. manufacturers take advantage of technology to produce more goods at a faster rate, countries in which production is notoriously inexpensive are finding it more difficult to make a case for themselves as the best places for sourcing product. The United States is a global front runner in cost for quality, as well as innovation.
Many companies are “reshoring” manufacturing in the United States as the result of money saved through automation. Bringing manufacturing back to the United States means bringing work back as well. The automotive industry in particular, has seen a rise in productivity within the United States. By strategically capitalizing on technology, it is becoming increasingly difficult for countries like China to compete with the economic efficiency of producing goods on American soil. Rising wages in China have made American wages competitive, and companies save considerable amounts of time and cash NOT having goods shipped half way around the world. In the end, they’re also able to get products to consumers more quickly. The money saved isn’t being completely reserved as profit. Rather, manufacturing companies are investing in expanded workforces that help enable them to produce more products for more consumers.
America’s Need for Skilled Labor
The migration of manufacturing back to the United States has created nearly a half million unfilled jobs. Unemployment rates for those with math, science, and engineering degrees is at about 2%. While jobs within manufacturing may be reapportioning in line with the evolution of the industry, they are certainly not disappearing.
In fact, the International Federation of Robotics disclosed that a survey conducted by Metra Martech indicated that one million robots create three million jobs. According to the survey, robots are primarily used to replace people in jobs that would be otherwise unsafe, impossible, or very costly for humans. The most successful employees understand that a healthy mix of skills and education are the secret ingredient, while also keeping up with industry trends. The report also indicates not only has increased automation resulted in a net positive growth in jobs within the manufacturing industry, wages as a whole have also increased due to rising needs for more specified knowledge and skills.
Additive Manufacturing Creates Jobs
The growth of new industries within manufacturing also helps existing manufacturers continue to improve efficiency while creating jobs. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, for example, is now a multi-billion dollar industry that helps other types of manufacturers produce goods at a fraction of former costs by providing them with resources to produce molds and prototypes inexpensively or even on site with the acquisition of 3D printers. A rise in demand for 3D printing has also translated to a rise in jobs for those with skills in additive manufacturing. According to Forbes, 35% of all new engineering jobs in 2014 were related to additive manufacturing. This is particularly good news for those who work in the automobile industry since additive manufacturing techniques are increasingly employed in the making of cars.
Bottom-Line: Automation Means Expansion
For hundreds of years, humans have imagined the threat posed to them by machines in art, literature, music, and film. So far, humans remain on the winning side of the battle. The reason is simply that automation means expansion, which means creates rather than diminishes the need for human labor. A closer approximation of the impact of automation on the workforce is to view it as a partnership. Yes, automation may replace some more menial manual jobs that humans cannot perform very efficiently. In turn, however, it creates new ones that allow humans to excel in utilizing things that machines, no matter how efficiently they work, do not have—a brain, creativity, and innovation.