With technology on the rise, automation across a multitude of industries is growing. Robots, increased technology, and complex artificial intelligence are sweeping in to provide more efficient and economical solutions for businesses. This transition, which may be viewed as profound to some, is putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of losing their jobs and being replaced by automation, especially in the manufacturing sector.

Who’s At Risk?

Automation is infiltrating the market so rapidly that 25% of the US job market is at risk of being replaced by non-human counterparts. Those at particular risk are employees in positions earning lower than average wages and performing tasks that are considered to be repetitive. The largest sectors being hit by the upswing to automation are seen in the foodservice industry and production operations. From something as simple as replacing wait-staff with “order ahead” options on a restaurant’s app to companies like Lockheed Martin using augmented reality in the construction of their new spacecraft, the advancement of automation is huge. Over 7 million Americans lost their jobs due to automated processes between 2004 and 2009 and the numbers are on the rise each year. Over the next decade, over 1.5 million jobs are projected to be nullified due to automation across various markets in the United States.

What are Experts Saying?

Speaking directly to the engineering sector of the workforce, Oxford Economics predicts that robots will replace 20 million jobs within the next 10 years across the world. The utilization of robots in the workforce has doubled in the last 10 years, holding space in over 2.25 million jobs. China, alone, accounts for 20% of the world’s robots in the workforce. The biggest factors when determining whether or not to use robot replacements will come down to cost, ability, and the increase in demand for manufactured goods. Robots are cheaper than humans which is the most logical reason to turn to their use when ramping up production efforts throughout manufacturing organizations. A decrease in cost associated, plus an increase in needs equals higher profitability. Robots take away the human element of uncertainty when it comes to vacation time, sick leave or any other time out of the “office.” They are reliable and easily more efficient. As technology, for robotics, continues to improve they are becoming more capable of performing even greater and more complex tasks.

As noted in the Oxford Report, “As the pace of robotics adoption quickens, policymakers will be faced with a dilemma: while robots enable growth, they exacerbate income inequality…” The biggest downside to robot replacement in current human-oriented tasks is the increase in the unemployment rate. This will increase the gap in income inequalities and cause some level of political unrest. The workers most notably affected are considered entry-level, making it harder for them to find jobs that match their skills, as most of those jobs will be replaced by automation, to some degree.

Benefits of Automation

On the contrary, there are benefits to what is dubbed Industry 4.0, which can have a positive impact on the job market and human interaction. As engineers begin to integrate automation, they are improving their efficiency levels while also removing the tedious tasks to make room for more thought-provoking day-to-day tasks. This gives the employees a higher sense of purpose and allows them to be part of a more exciting sector of their organization. Utilizing a different skill bank within each employee allows their personal potential to soar. Automation does not necessarily equal job loss for all. Although automation, robotics, and technological advancements are continuing to rise, jobs may change their structure but are not considered obsolete. Automation, if integrated in a purposeful way, can increase productivity for the organization. It will allow employees to perform their slated tasks in a more effective manner, taking out any of the mundane, lesser requirements on their job description.

There are both positives and negatives when thinking about the impact of automation, robotics and technology-driven advancements in the manufacturing workforce. The rise, in these facets, will continue to increase across a multitude of markets, but job loss does not have to be the direct cause if handled in an actionable, proactive approach to both increase productivity and keep long-tenured employees in effective and profitable roles.