With automation, what does a rebound in manufacturing do for workers?

Automating textile jobs

In the early 19th century, a clique of British textile workers broke into factories and smashed mechanized looms, motivated by fear that their craftsmanship—and jobs—would be cast aside in favor of new textile machines. Suffice it to say that this tactic didn’t end well for the Luddites, as they came to be known: When their protests turned violent, the government had many hanged or exiled.

It might fairly be said that those Luddites are the spiritual ancestors of today’s technophobes, who likewise object to the encroachments of new technology on the grounds that automation displaces human laborers. And this argument can seem compelling, whether the automated item in question is a mechanized knitting frame or an AI-enabled bot.

But it also misses the point.

Automation = More (Different) Jobs

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that even as factory work has grown ever more synonymous with automation in recent years, a renaissance in American manufacturing has, by some measures, been underway for a while: McKinsey reported that 1.3 million manufacturing jobs were introduced between 2010 and the pandemic-induced disruptions of 2019. This rebound, moreover, is widely expected to continue, boosting GDP by more than 15%, not least because a lessening of our country’s reliance on imports could alleviate the supply chain woes that have been plaguing marketers and consumers.

To be sure, certain human jobs are inevitably lost to automation. But it’s also true that automation leads to an increase in different human jobs. A report from PwC, for example, suggests that manufacturing headcount lost to automation will be offset by the creation of new—and often superior—jobs that can be traced to automation. After all, the invention and mass production of the automobile didn’t only result in a massive loss of jobs for carriage makers and stable workers. It also increased opportunities for assembly line workers, car mechanics, and many other professions that had previously gone unimagined.

Automation = Career-Long Learning

Another outgrowth of automation is the widespread adoption of workplace learning interventions, such as:

Upskilling, wherein employees learn new skills to support their existing roles
Reskilling, wherein employees are given the skills to adopt completely new roles

That’s because more and more companies are reading the writing on the wall: Demand for manual skills for repetitive tasks is expected to decrease by nearly 30% in Europe and the U.S. over the next decade, while demand for automation-adjacent skills—including the ability to interact with technology—is expected to soar by more than 50%.

All of which is to say that when it comes to automation, the needs of businesses and employers are not inevitably at odds.  We know this firsthand at Abacus, because our work over the years has consistently demonstrated how automation helps businesses flourish while at the same time granting employees access to new opportunities and skill sets.  Learn more about our work here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *