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Industrial robots can create more palatable human jobs

Tim Schiller
By Tim Schiller National Accounts Manager, KUKA Robotics

A decade removed from the Great Recession, the U.S. job market is thriving. Because employers are struggling to fill empty positions, they must explore other ways to increase production needs.

Repetitive, boring or even dangerous tasks often push potential candidates elsewhere—and drive away existing employees. Bored workers are twice as likely to leave a company, according to a recent report from Udemy for Business. And with plenty of options on the table, competition for new workers is intense.

Many are solving the labor shortage with robotics. From lowered labor costs, higher productivity and greater repeatability, robotic automation is showing more than a few benefits.

Dealing with the sticker shock that often accompanies automation tech can be tough. But shelling out for robot-based automation can help set the stage for savings later on. Automation could slash global labor costs 16 percent by 2025, according to a report from Boston Consulting Group.

The purchase price of automation can be amortized over the course of several years. Once this is done, the day-to-day cost of operating robots, together with regular maintenance, make for an annual payment that many find manageable.

Keeping your current workforce, as well as finding new employee candidates, has associated costs: wages that are expected to grow over time, healthcare benefits that seem to be going up by the month and providing additional training that will be needed for new tasks set before workers.

Fewer people are willing to take on low-skilled, manual labor positions, and our economic landscape is driving much of that change. In the U.S., employment growth for occupations requiring higher levels of physical skills rose just 18 percent between 1983 and 2015. In comparison, overall employment grew by 50 percent during the same time frame. Robots and other automation technology are filling the gap of workers who are no longer interested in doing the type of hard, manual labor common in industries like manufacturing.

With fewer young people willing to take blue collar jobs, companies must find ways to retain their aging workforce. The median age of employees in manufacturing hovered around 44 years old in 2017, and younger workers remain in short supply as baby boomers edge closer to retirement.

Robots are helping businesses adapt to demographic changes and wage pressures. Even China, where most Westerners think unskilled labor is still plentiful, is finding it harder to find blue collar workers, and manufacturers there must rely on robots to perform more factory jobs.

Many companies are finding their way around labor shortages with automation. By introducing a higher degree of consistency and cutting the cost of work being done, robots can more than make up for the shifts in worker preferences and availability.

Throughout history, technology has been a job creator, not a job destroyer. When farming machinery was introduced in the 19th century, hard, repetitive, manual work was replaced by simple machinery and tools. In the last 20 to 30 years, computers have taken over roles that were previously considered high volume and repetitive.

Industrial robots can create a more productive work environment for existing workers. When industrial robots take over the more mundane aspects of producing goods and services, there is more room for the creative skills that only human workers can offer. Also, less worker fatigue, increased autonomy and greater safety can boost employee satisfaction.

Studies from the International Federation of Robotics confirm that when robot usage increases, so does the productivity of manufacturers and employment.

Research shows that the increased productivity of robots helps companies improve their competitiveness. And with that comes greater production capabilities and increased demand.

The end result?

New job opportunities and overall growth in labor demand and positive impact on wages.

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