Each new technological advancement historically generates a tidal wave of fear and uncertainty in the job market. Will once solid careers be rendered obsolete by the latest innovations? For the traditional forms of labor that manage to stick around, will wages depreciate? These are legitimate questions and concerns for a manufacturing market that experienced so much job loss during the Great Recession of 2008, and eventually revived itself after a few years of steady re-shoring. No one in the industry wants to lose the progress we’ve made, even those on the cutting edge of automation innovation. However, though technological changes are inevitable, job loss in the manufacturing sector doesn’t have to be.
Automation Creates More Jobs Than It Phases Out
According to an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report on technology’s effect on job growth:
“Technology both eliminates jobs and creates jobs. Generally it destroys lower wage, lower productivity jobs, while it creates jobs that are more productive, high-skill and better paid. Historically, the income-generating effects of new technologies have proved more powerful than the labor-displacing effects: technological progress has been accompanied not only by higher output and productivity, but also by higher overall employment.”1
In addition to the findings above, another study culling 140 years of UK census data dubbed technology a, “great job-creating machine”2. However, like the OECD report, their findings don’t indicate that zero labor changes will occur, or that manufacturers and their employees won’t have to find ways of adapting to the technological ripple effect. According to that same UK study, “Machines will take on more repetitive and laborious tasks, but seem no closer to eliminating the need for human labour than at any time in the last 150 years.” Automation will inevitably phase out labor intensive, and unskilled work, but will replace those admittedly undesirable jobs with higher paying, skilled labor in the manufacturing technology sector and beyond. Essentially, we can thank automation and robotics for making manufacturing work safer, more lucrative, and more sustainable.
New Technology Jobs on the Horizon
Of course, automation generates jobs in sectors directly related to it. Manufacturing can expect new work to be created specifically in, “science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields like nanotechnology and robotics.” Those careers mean serious job growth in academically rigorous fields, but how many of those jobs can we expect to see? According to a 2011 study, every “one million industrial robots directly created nearly three million jobs. Of the six countries examined in the study, five saw their unemployment rates go down as the number of robots used went up.”3 That means each and every robot purchased in a plant will generate three times as many jobs for human hands to fill.
However, the rise in technology does not require that everyone go out and get a degree in IT or seek a career in another high-credentialed STEM field. Technical skills are also a component of the 1:3 job increase ratio. According to Tech Crunch,
“Technology has not only created departments and jobs within companies, but created the need for entirely new companies and businesses. The demand for technical skills will only increase with an increase in automation: Someone needs to fix the robot when a part is faulty. Driver-less cars will still require mechanics.”3