Can Manufacturing Automation Solve Labor Shortages?
Although many manufacturing jobs are pay well, the industry has been facing a labor shortage. Automated manufacturing systems can help the manufacturing industry attract new employees and retrain existing workers. Understand why there's a skilled blue-collar labor shortage and who's affected along with possible solutions, including automation.
What Are the Reasons Behind Labor Scarcity?
While many skilled labor, blue-collar jobs face a worker shortage, the manufacturing industry has been hit especially hard. A study found that available manufacturing jobs and a lack of skilled workers are creating a widening gap. Even though the unemployment rate has been higher than it was in 2018, manufacturers say it's 36% more difficult to find workers today than it was in 2018. More than three-quarters also said attracting and retaining workers was a challenge.
The manufacturing labor shortage is primarily due to shifting workforce demographics, wages that are too low and changing perceptions about blue-collar labor:
Shifting demographics: Nearly a quarter of the manufacturing industry includes individuals aged 55 or older. Many of the previous skilled workers are retiring now or will be soon, leading to a knowledge gap. Employers must be cognizant of how to best preserve older employees' knowledge.
Changing perceptions: Today, most parents encourage their children to pursue higher education. As a consequence of the misconception that working in the trades leads to dead-end jobs, shop classes have been gradually phased out of high schools to push students toward college. Younger generations also may hold an untrue stigma against blue-collar jobs, thinking they're somehow less valuable than white-collar jobs.
Expectations of higher wages: A case study found that when older manufacturing employees retire, their younger counterparts are hired at lower wages. An increase in e-commerce has also made companies like Amazon fierce competitors for manufacturers.
What Fields Are Impacted Most by the Blue-Collar Labor Shortage?
Blue-collar industries have recently faced greater skilled labor shortages than white-collar professions. A study found that only 8% of blue-collar industries surveyed had no problems with recruitment or retention, compared to nearly a quarter of white-collar employers who answered the same.
Three industries that have been experiencing major labor shortages include:
Manufacturing: Manufacturing employers have had difficulty attracting talent for some time. A study predicts that 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will remain unfilled through 2030, which could ultimately cost the U.S. economy up to $1 trillion. Job openings in manufacturing have increased significantly, though, jumping from 410,000 to 522,000 between October 2017 and October 2018.
Construction: A lack of shop classes and encouragement for students to pursue the trades has contributed to the construction labor scarcity. Like manufacturing, the construction industry is also aging, as the average construction worker is 43 years old. To keep up with labor shortages, employers would need to hire 1 million new construction workers within the next two years.
Warehousing: An increase in e-commerce has lead to strain on warehouse workers. Coupled with a blue-collar labor shortage, employees working in warehouses have struggled to keep up with demand.
What Are Potential Solutions to the Manufacturing Labor Shortage?
Because companies have suffered losses from the manufacturing skilled labor shortage, many have been devising ways to attract new talent to the industry. Potential ways to help resolve the labor shortage and encourage more workers to choose the manufacturing industry include automation, offering multi-generational in-house training programs and reaching out to diverse groups.
Before the rise in technology and automation for manufacturing jobs through artificial intelligence and robotics, people feared that previous skilled blue-collar jobs would be eliminated. The opposite is true — automation has actually created more jobs. Automation can assume many of the manufacturing manual labor roles of the past, allowing employees to then transition to more sophisticated tasks.
Imagine an automated system replaces a laborer who was previously involved in manufacturing operations like assembly, disassembly and spot and arc welding. For example, Genesis Automation's custom turnkey assembly solutions can streamline the assembly process. Employers can retrain employees who were previously doing less complex work to complete more skilled tasks.
Multi-Generational Training Programs
Because much of the current manufacturing professionals are retiring, they must now pass their expertise to the next generation. In-house training is crucial due to the disappearance of trade programs in U.S. high schools. Paid apprenticeship programs pose an attractive alternative to a four-year bachelor's degree. Current employees can also advance in their careers by learning highly transferrable skills.
Part of the reason the manufacturing industry is experiencing a labor scarcity is due to the information gap between industry and employee needs. Often, people simply just aren't aware that those jobs exist, are well paid and are in need of workers. Employers should advertise flexible schedules and contact demographics that are traditionally lacking from the industry, such as people of color and women.
How Can Automation Benefit Manufacturing?
Manufacturing companies can use automation to attract younger generations of blue-collar workers. And automation can benefit your company beyond recruiting new employees. Automating the manufacturing process leads to an increase in skilled jobs, improved worker productivity and higher-quality products made with lower operating costs.
Increase in Jobs
Manufacturing automation systems can increase the number of skilled jobs available for workers. For example, staff will need to train new and existing staff to oversee the new technology, which is often a more skilled task.
While automation increases jobs, fewer people are then required to physically attend work to complete tangible tasks. A study discovered that nearly 90% of the work employees in production occupations perform is able to be automated. The workplace becomes a safer and cleaner environment when machines can complete more dangerous jobs for workers.
Improved Worker Productivity
Around 1900, the average workweek was about 70 hours. Today, that number has dropped to 40 hours, thanks in part to machine automation. Automation and mechanization have greatly reduced the time it takes workers to manufacture products, lowering factory lead times while increasing worker productivity.
A study on manufacturing work in 46 countries, or about 80% of the global workforce, revealed that 64% of working hours in 2015 could have been automated. If workers are retrained to fit the changing industry, they can have more flexible schedules or even choose to have a shorter workweek.
Improved Quality With Lower Operating Costs
Because automation eliminates the factor of human error, it typically results in higher-quality products. Machines move at a constant speed. They don't tire out and are more accurate than humans. By automating the manufacturing process, workers will more productively make consistently quality products.
Automation also saves manufacturing companies on the cost of labor, as automated equipment can easily cover the jobs of multiple people. Companies can also save on energy bills, as automation uses less energy and more efficiently uses materials than traditional manufacturing processes. Plus, an increase in productivity, speed and product quality also contribute to an increase in revenue.
Partner With Genesis Automation for Custom Automation Solutions
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