Robotics and the Future of Skilled Jobs in Manufacturing Industry

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No matter how one were to look at it, robotics is undeniably the future of manufacturing. Many of the world’s largest firms have already signed off on the gradual replacement of the majority of their human workforce in favour of a mechanical one that is both highly sophisticated and highly precise. Truth be told, it’s easy to understand why; automated robotics allow companies to continually produce their goods at a consistently tireless pace that simply cannot be matched – even by the most dexterous of hands. Tireless as they may be, the true value of a robotic workforce lies in its ability to deliver perfection in terms of production and assembly at a diminishing cost to the owner.

The fact that manufacturing systems are becoming increasingly versatile in their applications is surely enough to set any manual laborer on edge – after all, automation is a word that is often synonymous with “downsizing” or “job loss” in the manufacturing world – but it doesn’t have to be.

Regardless of how sophisticated or advanced the mechanical workforce becomes, there will always be a need for human workers that have the ability to build, program, install, and service them. So while it may be true that robots can be considered to be a harbinger of pink slips, they also afford the opportunity for an entire segment of the workforce to develop their skills, become more specialized, and command a higher wage.

In the west, people often criticize a manufacturer’s decision to send operations overseas where historically, the cost to produce goods was so low that firms who maintained domestic production could simply not compete. In recent years, the cost of living in many developing economies has been rising, causing a manufacturer migration back to familiar shores, only to find that the skilled labour they need to run their plants no longer exists. In short, the domestic manufacturing sector is full of jobs – but it would seem the current supply of skilled workers is woefully unable to meet the demand.

A lack of skilled labour has become a common theme particularly in sectors that have always been dominated by unskilled and plentiful manual laborers.

Self-preservation being one of humanity’s most prolific traits, many workers in the manufacturing sector have taken it upon themselves to upgrade their skills to meet this shift in demand head-on — a trend that numerous academic institutions (George Brown College among them) have identified and have subsequently begun to  tailor the programs they offer to accommodate.

It may seem like a minor thing to millennial or those new to post-secondary academia,  but the availability of self-paced, online technology courses that provide workers the opportunity to remain in the workforce while learning new skills cannot be understated – and it’s not just the workers that are benefiting. Manufacturer’s are quickly gobbling up those with the skills to operate and maintain their automation equipment.

So Why Is the Manufacturing Sector Transforming so Quickly?

At the end of the day going the route of automation is about efficiency, cost of goods sold, and even the consumer’s perception of the brand. For a global organization that needs to produce millions of units a day to service their entire distribution network, employing a fleet of robots makes a great deal more sense than employing human workers. While it is an undeniable fact that automated manufacturing systems consists of a hefty initial financial investment, the cost savings afforded by one over the long term cannot be denied.

For instance, take a company that is swapping out a conventional production line with an automated system worth about $500,000. The equipment replaces two full time employees, both of whom earn $50,000 a year. At the end of the machinery’s lifespan, say twenty years from now, the robotic system will have netted the firm a basic labour savings of $1.5 million – and that’s not taking into account the system’s significantly higher production output.

Transformation is scary, but it’s also exciting. Workers that are displaced by technology have the opportunity to change right alongside the industry. If further convincing is needed, consider this: in the early twentieth century, the agriculture industry in the United States employed approximately 40% of the workforce – today, thanks to technological innovations, that figure is less than 2%. The workforce didn’t disappear; it simply evolved to meet new demands.

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Comments

  1. As much as we fear for the rise of the machines as far as employee’s perspective is concern, it will always be on where we can manufacture more and cost less. AI will be the answer to such demand.