Integrated Human Capital

How Will Workplace Automation Affect Manufacturing Jobs?

December 7, 2018

The latest trend in workplace improvement is automation. More and more industries are now incorporating computer machinery, especially in manufacturing. Although many fear that manufacturing jobs are in jeopardy, plenty of businesses are looking to increase production without downsizing.


The use of automation and computers in new ways has sparked the fourth revolution in the manufacturing industry, better know as Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 has revolutionized the way products are being produced by incorporating automation into the everyday routine. According to Forbes, manufacturing has come a long way. The first revolution occurred with the use of mechanization through water and steam power. The second occurred when electricity was introduced into the industry. And the third occurred with the integration of computers, automation, and machine learning. Now, the fourth revolution is focused on the incorporation of robots. With the manufacturing industry moving into a more tech-savvy environment, many are questioning the number of skill leveled employees who are in the industry, and if industry 4.0 will eliminate certain manufacturing positions.


The Chicago Business Journal recapped The Automation Share Forum held in Chicago on October 11th. The forum was hosted by KPMG, a professional services firm, and was attended by various technology based companies. The forum concentrated on Intellectual Automation (IA) and the purpose it holds for Industry 4.0. BluePrism, a company that specializes in automation software, says that “[Industry] 4.0 represents the advanced ways computer technology is now employed to remove the difficult, mundane and repetitive features of modern life…”. Although the forum focused on Intellectual Automation and how it should reshape the workforce, all the organizations in attendance agreed that “the higher purpose of IA is not to replace workers with automation but to replace tasks with automation that makes the workforce more productive, creative and collaborative – and happier.” Jobs are predicted not to be eliminated but upgraded.     

So how is the manufacturing industry preparing for the full impact of Industry 4.0? According to the L.E.K Consulting Manufacturing survey, automation isn’t taking away jobs. Decision makers surveyed are planning on investing in their current workforce by retaining, retraining, and recruiting within the workforce. According to the survey, most manufacturers aren’t considering downsizing. By investing in their current talent pool, particularly in the older generations, manufacturing companies are striving to attract those employees that are familiar with the factory, company procedures, and company values. As automation takes over lower-level tasks, the need for skilled labor increases. Companies like BMW have “reconfigured production lines with its highly valued, older skilled workers in mind,” according to Industry Week. Things like easy-to-read screens and being able to sit while working are all modifications made with skilled workers in mind.


Retraining is another way some manufacturing companies are keeping their talent in today’s manufacturing industry. Upgrading their employees’ skill sets and cross training employees is just another way companies are preparing to introduce automation into their everyday production. Due to the increased need of skilled labor, 38% of manufacturing companies have hired staffing agencies to help fill their open roles according to the 2018 ASQ Manufacturing Outlook  survey.


Industry 4.0 is changing the way people look at manufacturing. Not every manufacturing company has decided to fully adopt automation, but from recent reports, those who have are excited to be moving forward within the industry and are looking to keep their current workforce while attracting new talent.  


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