Researchers find robots create jobs over the long term
Industrial robots, particularly in the automotive industry, complement human workers rather than replace them.
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Industrial robots, particularly in the automotive industry, complement human workers rather than replace them, according to a recent research published by Yong Suk Lee, assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, and co-author John Chung of Auburn University.
The study found that digitization and advanced automation in the automotive industry are likely to increase workforce productivity and create new tasks, requiring the hiring of more employees. However, there are cases where robotic technology may have supplemented the workforce by filling in the vacancies left when employees quit or moved to other positions.
Suk Lee and Chung examined the influence of robots on the US labor market between 2005-2016. The team analyzed data over five year intervals to see how automation is changing the labor market. They found that during the first five years, robots had a negative impact on both human employee numbers and their local bets, but this impact picked up again and became positive in recent years, starting around 2010.
The researchers tracked the reversal and determined its source by comparing data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The data they found suggests that increased productivity can be attributed to three factors:
- Automation of tasks and reduction of production costs
- Improved robotic technology performs the same task
- The creation of new tasks is driven by autonomous technology
Suk Lee and Chung found that as more companies turn to automation, they also need more workforce to operate and manage autonomous systems. Additionally, there has been a recent shift in the way robots are used with the advent of collaborative robots (cobots). Instead of using traditional industrial robots, which must be confined away from workers for safety, companies are using cobots that can work alongside humans.
“When robots were first introduced, the goal was to cut costs and replace human workers. But now companies are using ‘collaborative robots’ or ‘cobots’, which are designed to work with humans,” Lee told Notre Dame News.
Cobots present an opportunity for companies to equip their workforce with robotics, making them more productive without having to lay off workers. These robots can help companies exceed production targets and take on new projects, creating more job vacancies for human workers.
“Our findings point to the auto sector in the US, which is the largest adopter of robotics, and we are seeing a transition from what is a car to what is the industry (i.e., electric vehicles). I think it’s going to create a different kind of demand for tasks, skills, and workers. Robots can not only help existing workers, but can also help recruit new workers who specialize in that domain as technology develops,” said Lee.
The research team also observed spillover effects for supporting industries inside and outside the manufacturing sector. As more companies adopt robots, the service sector and professional services, such as accountants and lawyers, in the local economy are also experiencing an increase.
Suk Lee and Chung note that many of the changes they observed are occurring within the auto industry, which has traditionally been the largest adopter of robotics. However, this is starting to shift in 2020 and 2021, when non-auto sales topped auto sales for the first time, according to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), so it’s possible we could see the same effect in other industries as automation continues to adopt. .
It’s also important to note that Suk Lee and Chung’s research ended in 2016, and cobots of all kinds, including autonomous driving robots (AMRs) have grown in popularity since then, further adding to the workforce.