If you asked 10 manufacturing employees what they thought of automation or AI, chances are nine of them wouldn’t have good things to say.

But new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests the fears that automation will steal jobs are unfounded, just as most manufacturing executive already know.

That fear might be understandable. For the past couple decades these employees have been bombarded by media—and some politicians–that automation is coming and, when it does, millions of mortgage-paying workers will be replaced by robots.

We know automation remains on the minds of Minnesota manufacturers, especially during the COVID pandemic. In our most recent State of Manufacturing survey, 25% of manufacturers surveyed said they were using automation more than they expected to at the beginning of the year; half of those said the increase was due to the pandemic.

But the MIT study gives us all reason to sit back and ponder automation for a moment. I concluded that there will continue to be plenty of jobs—more jobs than there are workers, in fact—and that automation will help companies contend with the worker shortage.

From the report: “No compelling historical or contemporary evidence suggests that technological advances are driving us toward a jobless future. On the contrary, we anticipate that in the next two decades, industrialized countries will have more job openings than workers to fill them, and that robotics and automation will play an increasingly crucial role in closing these gaps.”

Which isn’t to say automation and robotics will be a non-factor. Advancements and developments in automation and technology will be crucial to a thriving manufacturing economy. They’ll not only improve bottom lines for manufacturers, but also push those same manufacturers to develop new jobs that require new skills. If a manufacturer chooses to use robotics in some part of its operation, that shift likely will create new jobs, not eliminate them. It’s not an easy process, but it’s a necessary one.

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“These technologies, in concert with economic incentives, policy choices, and institutional forces, will alter the set of jobs available and the skills they demand,” the report said. This process is both challenging and indispensable. Inventing new ways of accomplishing existing work, new business models, and entirely new industries drives rising productivity and new jobs. Such innovations bring new occupations to life, generate demands for new forms of expertise, and create opportunities for rewarding work.”

Most of today’s production jobs didn’t exist in 1940. That same evolution will continue as America works to solve critical problems facing the world including, the report says, poverty, malnutrition and disease. Savvy manufacturers will take these conclusions as a signal to proceed and invest wisely in the kind of automation that not only helps them grow profitably, but also  positions and trains workers to grow with them.

Marsh McLennan_Agency

Events Calendar

December 15 – Understanding Business Management: ISO
Expert Keith Gadacz will be outlining the basics of a business management system like ISO. Learn how to prepare for ISO certification and how to leverage this powerful certification to improve your company. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

January 13 – Driving Continuous Improvement in Uncertain Times
David Ahlquist will be demonstrating continuous improvement techniques that will keep employees engaged and focused on value-added activities, especially in times of uncertainty. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

January 20 – How Your Employees Can help Improve Profitability in the Coming Recovery
Join talent expert Michele Neale as she shows how to foster an engaged and productive workforce to attract workers and reduce turnover. Online via Zoom  Learn more and register

January 28 – Thriving in a State of Change
We’re taking our popular Executive Manufacturing Forum online to bring together manufacturing leaders and business experts to learn, network and discuss solutions for growing your business in a changing environment. Online presentation  Learn more and register

See more upcoming events

Industry News

Slight gain of 1.3% in October for manufactured goods
Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods showed a modest gain in October, with much of the strength coming from orders for military equipment. Nov. 25, StarTribune  Read more

After Electrolux closure, worker program finds jobs for 159
The State Dislocated Workers project and Career Solutions have helped more than 150 workers impacted by the Electrolux plant closure in St. Cloud find jobs. Nov. 24, St. Cloud Times  Read more

Policy changes for safety, scheduling becoming ‘new norm’ 
Manufacturers across Minnesota, like Detroit Lakes’ BTD, are adapting company policies to meet the needs of the COVID-19 era. Nov. 21, Detroit Lakes Tribune  Read more

Ag businesses adjusting to pandemic
Minnesota’s largest food and ag businesses are responding successfully to the pandemic as they pivot to a virtual environment and changing customer demands. Nov. 19, Rochester Post Bulletin  Read more

Rolls-Royce expands its power generation footprint in Mankato
Rolls-Royce has announced a $13.9 million investment in its Power Systems business unit for a multi-phase expansion of its power generation manufacturing facility in Mankato. Nov. 17, Assembly Mag  Read more

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