Automation’s (Positive) Impact on Manufacturing Jobs

Industry Trends

I have just returned from another successful ARC Industry Forum in Orlando, where I heard a lot of discussion about the shortage of qualified workers for manufacturing.  Industry leaders are concerned that with the large population of “baby boomers” poised to leave the workforce, it will be challenging to find the right skilled workers to replace them. 

There also was a lot of discussion about the need to not just automate, but to use such technologies as analytics, artificial intelligence, and advanced automation to help capture and retain the knowledge of the retiring workers in the systems deployed in our plants and factories.  The general consensus at the Forum is that manufacturing is essential, so it’s necessary for suppliers to develop automation solutions that can support the advanced manufacturing techniques and technologies needed to make manufacturing sustainable.  While this supports much of what I have learned in my decades in the manufacturing and automation industries, it obviously is in stark contrast to the headlines in the general media that we frequently see declaring that automation is taking away manufacturing jobs and that these jobs will “never come back.”   

However, after I returned to snowy Massachusetts from sunny Florida, I came across an article in the Boston Globe that has restored my faith in the ability of non-automation, or non-manufacturing professionals to understand how both views can be correct.  The article is entitled “The New Face of Manufacturing Jobs”.  The article in part repeated the often headline that “…it is more likely that automation has been the main cause of [manufacturing] job loss.”.  However, it went on to say that while in many parts of the US, manufacturing is making its way back, the jobs that will now be needed will be very different than the “lower-skilled workers, particularly blue-collar” jobs that in part caused these manufacturers to move “off shore”.   Advanced automation being applied to the manufacturing processes are enabling many of these manufacturers to return.  While low-level work, such as assembling products by hand, will largely not be returning, skilled workers will now be required to keep the highly automated factories and production plants operating at peak performance.

My conclusion is that automation professionals should be encouraged to know that their efforts to make manufacturing sustainable in not only the US, but in other parts of the developed world, is finally gaining some recognition.  Advanced manufacturing technology will allow the manufacturing base to thrive, while help solve the problem of the retiring knowledge base of workers.  I’m convinced that the jobs that will be created will be more sustainable as well.

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