Are Robots Taking Away Manufacturing Jobs? R.F. Mau Weighs In (Part 2)

In another sense, robots are not replacing manufacturing jobs.

But they are changing them and creating new ones in the process.

More Job Creation & Work Augmentation, Not Replacement

As we’ve mentioned, some companies are implementing robotics to run operations more efficiently with fewer people. From a wider perspective, though, the trend is a shift in workers’ duties (also known as workforce augmentation) – and in some cases, new job creation.

As Heather Stockton, Mariya Filipova, and Kelly Monahan explain in a Deloitte Insights article:

“In the context of technological enablement and automation, there is an ongoing need for essentially human and enduring skillsets that robots currently do not possess. One global manufacturer plans to replace nearly 30 percent of its current workforce capacity with robots-but to reallocate its human workers to more complex tasks rather than eliminating them.”

As repetitive and mundane tasks are taken over by robots, our jobs are evolving. Workers can now engage in “more advanced and engaging tasks,” which, as Deloitte explores in another article about robotics, could help organizations “see lower turnover, higher morale, and increased internal innovation.”

Manufacturing workers can actually reap the benefits of robotics. For one, robots help increase safety. Many American machine shops use CNC machines and industrial robots in tandem, and robots complete more dangerous tasks that were performed by humans.

And a new job opportunity arises with what are known as “collaborative robots,” or “cobots.” Robots do the dirty work, but you need humans to tell the robots what to do. So, companies can now use their employees to run the “cobots.”

Moreover, robots help workers increase their productivity (one whitepaper touted a statistic of 0.35% per year) – and in turn, have greater job satisfaction. Because workers can now spend time and energy on more fulfilling, mentally-stimulating tasks than mundane work, employees have more ownership over their work and feel more empowered.

And as productivity increases, so do profits, which benefits the workers with more jobs, higher salaries, and increased opportunities for advancement.

Crunching Some Numbers

History and statistics back this up. The fear of robots taking over human jobs is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around since the 1930s. Take ATMs, for example. Many people feared that ATMs would take jobs away from bank clerks before they were installed. Instead, banks hired more workers after ATMs were introduced.

And according to “Work in the Automation Age: Sustainable Careers Today and into the Future,” a recent whitepaper from Association for Advancing Automation, from 2010-2016, 136,748 robots were shipped to the U.S. Simultaneously, the manufacturing workforce increased by 894,000. Many manufacturers who add robots also add jobs in the process.

These jobs are more skilled or involve different skills than previous positions.

Not necessarily technical skills; while some new jobs which will be created will certainly require a different degree of training and technical aptitude to work with or run robots, interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence will also become more important – things that robots simply could never learn.


So, now that we’ve explored this topic in more depth, let’s return to the original question: Are robots taking over manufacturing jobs?

The fact is that yes, jobs are being eliminated and replaced by robots. Companies are looking for ways to reduce their labor costs, and robots are an ideal solution in some ways. After all, robots don’t need insurance or file worker’s comp claims.

We’re already seeing low skill trade jobs being taken over by robots, so we shouldn’t be surprised if that continues in the future.

But these eliminated positions offer opportunities for both the companies, their current workers, and their future employees.

For with each eliminated job, new jobs are being created that provide more meaningful work opportunities to workers and benefit their employers in the process. At the same time, jobs are being augmented, or changed. Your employees can learn new things and invest in new processes.

Robots aren’t just coming; they’re already here. It’s our job to learn to use them to our advantage.