March 7, 2017
You've seen the headlines. Kiosks are replacing cashiers, autonomous vehicles are putting taxi drivers on the side of the road, and robots are now writing blog posts.
Clearly, robots have already started to replace workers in various industries. Are they coming for industrial jobs next?
The short answer? Kind of.
The longer answer? While they will most likely change the makeup of the industrial workforce and the way people do their jobs, the situation is not as dire as many people think. In fact, it could be a positive development for industry.
Can Robots Actually Make Industry Jobs Better?
Change can be scary. New technology can be intimidating. And when new technology drives change, that can be downright frightening.
But this fear is nothing new, and it is often overblown. Doomsayers have always predicted disastrous results when a new technology begins to take hold.
Of course, time has proven that technologies like these aren't harmful, but helpful. Robots will likely prove no different.
That's because most robots are being created to take over mundane, unskilled, and often dangerous work. Teachers don’t need to grade papers to be teachers; they need to teach skills and information tailored to each student in their care. A robot can mark those exams each week. Electrical engineers do not need to work on live wires and high voltage power lines to be electrical engineers; they can direct drones or other robotics to step in the way of possible electrocution. And let’s not pretend that the best part of your day is data importing and reporting. It’s not, it can be automated, and you can use your valuable time elsewhere.
Partnering With Robots
What the immediate future holds for us is most likely a partnership with robots. The adoption of collaborative robots, or cobots, is expected to grow by 40 percent each year over the next five years. The big reason why is because cobots can make the shop floor a lot safer, taking on tasks that may be too hard and laborious for people.
Of course, humans will still be on the shop floor, working alongside these robots. We'll be in charge of monitoring data, implementing processes, ensuring quality control, and tending to the more emotional and strategic aspects of the business.
A Good Sign?
So robots definitely have a place in industry. But are they taking over? While robots have undoubtedly become more prevelant in recent years, a recent report from the Association for Advancing Automation indicates that this may actually be a positive sign for the workforce.
During non-recessionary periods of years since 1996, the use of robots in manufacturing is actually associated with increased employment. Thus, the idea that of robots replacing humans isn't accurate, more to the point, robots spur the need for more humans.
Source: Association for Advancing Automation, Robots Fuel the Next Wave of U.S. Productivity and Job Growth
Robots are most certainly making an impact on industry, and yes, some of the more rote and dangerous positions will probably be taken over. But instead of viewing this as a threat to the way things are, manufacturers should look at this shift as an opportunity to get better aligned for the future.
Hiring tech-savvy employees now will allow you to take advantage of the capabilities of robots, as well as other emerging manufacturing technologies like the IoT and the cloud. Plus, as more Baby Boomers approach retirement, these new high-tech jobs will draw younger professionals to the industry and help close the skills gap.
The phenomenon is also a reminder that North American manufacturers needs to continue to innovate and harness the capabilities of technology in order to compete on a global stage and fuel the reemergence of manufacturing here in the U.S. and Canada.