When I read something in major mainstream media about manufacturing, production, automation, robots, or jobs, I’m prepared to cringe. Often the author has a journalism or economics degree who never worked inside a plant.
Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation, took on an opinion column by Thomas B. Edsall in The New York Times. The column is another one of those unsubstantiated, macro-level treatises on job losses and politics.
I’ll leave the politics to those who care. What I don’t like are the swipes at manufacturing, production, and automation that are popular at the national level. (Would it be cynical, or a reflection of the times, to say that negative articles generate page views?)
Burnstein writes, “Robots don’t take away jobs. When companies lose to their competition, that’s when workers lose jobs.”
My view is that job losses tie back to management—bad decisions, inferior leadership, ego, whatever.
Burnstein again, “Over the last 25 years, many American manufacturers found themselves unable to compete with the lower costs and higher productivity of foreign manufacturers. They closed their doors or moved their operations. Those jobs left for another country. They weren’t taken away by machines.
“In actuality, robots and automation have saved and created jobs – and will continue to do so. Businesses that used automation to lower costs and increase productivity were able to compete with foreign suppliers and keep their doors open. Workers stayed on the job at those facilities, and their communities didn’t suffer the traumatic loss of another local employer.
“Companies that embraced automation had the opportunity to grow and ultimately make more hires. Ask Marlin Steel in Baltimore or Vickers Engineering in New Troy, Mich., how their businesses were transformed – while providing safer, better, higher-paying jobs.”
Burnstein cites two crises on the horizon. First, there aren’t enough workers. And the second crisis: We lack the engineers, the technicians, AI specialists, and workers with trade skills to help companies deploy automation solutions.
In the automation age, the range of opportunities is huge — and promising. Entry-level, automation-age manufacturing jobs can start at $20 per hour with just a high school diploma and a few months of training and professional certification. Highly technical positions can pay far more.
“We need to prepare for change and embrace it. Not stand it in its way – because our global competitors are not standing still.”
Check out the competition
Under its “Made in China 2025” initiative, the Chinese will invest $300 billion in their manufacturing and automation technologies. China wants to dominate the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, 5G and quantum computing.
The rest of the world is also spending big. Under its Industry 4.0 initiative, Germany will invest more than 200 million euros in research and development funding for advanced manufacturing. Japan and South Korea are both investing heavily in industrial R&D as automation becomes even more essential to improving their competitiveness. The United Kingdom is stepping up its R&D efforts – including targeting funds at electric vehicle batteries and robotics – to help stimulate its economy.
The United States is just 16th in the world in robot adoption rate – a metric that track how fast a company is expected to automate based on economic factors. We are behind China, Japan and Mexico – and even Italy and Sweden.
He nails it. It’s a crisis of vision and leadership. Not a crisis of robots stealing jobs.