FUTURE OF AUTOMATION- Few technologies have been as significant or as disruptive to the manufacturing industry as automation. Thanks to automation, we are now able to produce much more stuff with far fewer people. Modern manufacturing lines are much more efficient and usually cheaper to run than previous iterations.
Automation is often associated with job losses and the devastation of communities. But what does the future of automation actually look like?
Reducing Manual Labor
Automation has been steadily reducing the number of people required in manufacturing production lines for decades now. American factories today can produce much more than past factories, and they can do so with a smaller workforce. Automation has played a big part in reducing the manual labor costs of manufacturing. However, many jobs have disappeared in the process.
Today, around half of all hours worked in manufacturing are spend doing manual labor. But by the year 2030, analysts anticipate that this will drop to just 35%.
With many manufacturing jobs becoming less reliant on manual labor, the composition of skills that recruiters look for will also change. As well as taking on physical and labor-intensive tasks, automation can even handle basic cognitive tasks. Businesses will start to look to humans to handle higher cognitive work and the social, emotional, and technological tasks that machines aren’t suited for.
Harmony with Humans
The most obvious downside of automation is the loss of jobs for people. However, there is another critical issue to consider when considering introducing more automation into the workplace. Over-investing in automation can leave humans seriously outnumbered by machines and ultimately demoralize them.
As this article from Kettering University puts it – “Heavily automating more functions than necessary may increase profits but it can contribute to a dehumanizing work environment. Less frequent human interaction can leave workers feeling increasingly isolated and may even decrease intrinsic motivation.”
Maintaining the right balance while continuing to increase the amount of automation in the workplace will be one of the most critical challenges for many businesses over the next decade. This challenge is especially prominent for the manufacturing sector.
We can already see the impacts that increased automation is having on the evolution of the manufacturing sector. Most analysts anticipate that the mid-2020s will be a tipping point for automation in the workplace. For example, this is when Price Waterhouse Coopers expects the impact on jobs in OECD countries to become noticeable.
By the middle of the decade, as many as 15% of all jobs in manufacturing, transportation and storage, and both wholesale and retail trade could be automated to some degree. This automation doesn’t necessarily mean that people are going to lose their jobs, but it does mean that the nature of their roles might change considerably.
If current trends prevail, somewhere between 35-50% of jobs in the sectors mentioned above will incorporate automation in some way.