Automation and the direction it’s heading in manufacturing is often put out as a doom and gloom situation. ‘Robotics will bring an end to the need for actual human workers’ is what is being stated. But is that really the case? Or will automation open up a whole new arena for workers? And what does it mean for how current manufacturing jobs are being filled? The current situation could have a huge impact on what happens in the future with automation and the job market.
Changes in the Playing Field
Companies are currently having difficulty finding enough employees to meet their manufacturing needs. While that seems to be at odds with the number of people needing jobs there are several reasons behind the problem. One of those is an aging work population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of half of all manufacturing workers was 45, and half as many of those were 55 or older in 2016. Retirement is closing in and there are no young workers stepping up to replace them. This is a critical issue for the future of manufacturing.
Drug problems are another major factor when it comes to employable men. Opioid use is wiping out a high percentage, as much as 25%, of what would be reliable, younger workers. Lack of skills is another contributor. Leadership and decision making skills, along with a broader array of adaptable skills, are sadly lacking in the training of young people today.
Automation Can Fill the Gap
Faced with a worker shortage, automation can help fill the gap. Jobs that are mundane, tedious and repetitive can often be replaced or enhanced by automation. As automation increases, areas such as data gathering can be automated. Automation can also free up current workers to be better utilized in other areas where automation isn’t possible. Companies are going to have to become innovative and think outside the box to make these things happen. The need for implementation and planning is immediate as many businesses are already in a labor crisis.
Automation at a much broader level is coming. Using it to meet your manufacturing needs calls for a business with a dedicated team that can come up with a sound strategy for the future—one that helps fill the current labor shortage and one that will create jobs as employees move from one position that’s automated, to another.
Moving Into the Future
Businesses simply cannot wait to make changes. They aren’t going to happen overnight so the planning has to begin now, especially those who are currently in need of workers. Here are some things to consider:
- Access Your Needs – Determine what areas you can use automation to downsize your need for workers and increase productivity.
- Training Programs – Consider implementing training programs that can retrain current employees to move into more skilled areas.
- Create New Job Titles – As you increase automation, where can you add job titles? Productivity increases with automation. How can you take advantage of that to add more diverse jobs and creativity to what you do?
- Consider Apprentice Training – How can your company work to develop an apprenticeship program that will train young workers as skilled workers of the future?
Automation can be the key to both fulfilling your current labor need and increasing the manufacturing job market in the future.
Wendy Stanley is Marketing Director for Radley Corporation, a company that specializes in EDI, WMS and MES software solutions for manufacturers. www.radley.com