We often hear about industrial automation’s effect on manufacturing employment. There’s always a fresh supply of news articles about how factory machines will reduce the number of jobs in manufacturing. Some go so far as to say that robots will lead to mass unemployment, and that we need to offset this job loss by taxing robots to help fund a universal basic income. At the same time, we also hear reports about a skills gap and jobs left unfilled in manufacturing employment.
How is it possible that manufacturing jobs are in jeopardy while there’s still an unmet demand for workers? Are claims about job loss in manufacturing overblown? Is the skills gap just a myth? It turns out that manufacturing employment is more complicated than many people realize.
The inevitability of automation
How many jobs will be automated? It’s difficult to get an exact number. Some say 25% of American jobs are susceptible to automation. Others suggest more than 70% jobs could be automated.
Even though experts can’t agree on just how many jobs robots will take, they do agree that automation will replace the need for workers to some extent, especially in boring and repetitive types of work.
Manufacturing work has traditionally relied on people doing boring, repetitive, and easily automated tasks. Automation technology continues to improve and get more affordable, so we can continue to expect robots to do more work in manufacturing.
The need for workers
One report suggests that 90% of manufacturers cannot fill available positions. The report found 98% of these businesses were small manufacturing companies, and 75% had fewer than 20 employees.
A common reason for unfillable jobs in manufacturing is the growing skills gap. Skilled manufacturing workers are getting older and retiring, and there aren’t enough young workers pursuing these careers. This translates to a shortage of qualified workers.
The skills gap will continue to widen as low-skill jobs are automated, available positions require higher skills and education, and the skilled workforce dwindles.
The future of manufacturing employment
It remains to be seen just how automation will influence manufacturing jobs. It’s possible that automation will free up labor so that human workers can focus on new, meaningful types of work in manufacturing. It’s also possible that robots will perform a majority of the tasks in manufacturing, and people will have to look elsewhere for work.
One thing is certain: automation is here to stay. As important as your factory machines are now, they will only grow in importance in the future. You must make sure that your machines are in good condition, so you’re ready for whatever manufacturing throws your way.
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