Industrial automation industry outlook: Prepare now for uncharted territory

It has been estimated that half of all manufacturing jobs in the United States will be gone by 2035. The cause? Industrial automation. As the sector enters uncharted territory, the big challenge will be training workers for this transition, according to forecasters at the McKinsey Global Institute. However, not all is doom and gloom and they are cautiously optimistic, knowing that people have adjusted to paradigm shifts in the past and will likely do so again.

An estimated half of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. will be gone by 2035. The cause? Industrial automation. But not all is doom & gloom. Learn why...

The growth of industrial automation

Industrial automation is a broad term that includes the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics. According to data reported by Visual Capitalist, 90 percent of manufacturers with fewer than 250 employees are investing in automation for at least some of their processes, while 100 percent of large companies with more than 250 employees are doing so.

“Industrial robot sales are sky high, mainly the result of falling industry costs,” writes Jeff Desjardins for Visual Capitalist. “This trend is expected to continue, with the cost of robots falling by 65 percent between 2015 and 2025.” As labor costs continue to rise, it makes sense that companies would use robots where they can and invest in labor where they need higher-level skills.

Currently, there are 200 installed manufacturing robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees in the United States, according to Visual Capitalist. Comparatively, the world average is 85. South Korea has the most at 710 per 10,000, with Singapore, Germany, and Japan also ahead of the U.S.

Where humans have the edge over robots

The routine and manual jobs most as risk because of industrial automation currently account for half of manufacturing’s workforce. By 2030, only 35 percent of those jobs will still exist. Instead of looking for workers with basic cognitive skills or physical and manual abilities, “the demand for humans is going to be for the skills that machines aren’t good at doing: that’s social and emotional skills, creativity, and applying high levels of cognitive function and expertise,” said McKinsey partner Susan Lund in a recent interview.

“Automation technologies today are much better at doing some things rather than others. Applying expertise is something that, at least in the time frame we’re looking at, humans will still have a comparative advantage,” Lund said. She predicts that “managers and executives are going to be needed everywhere, including a whole range of professionals. This includes IT- and computer-related professionals but also engineers, scientists, account managers, et cetera.”

In the same interview, another McKinsey partner, Michael Chui, talked about the importance of meta-skills, or the “ability to learn how to learn. What we’ll need to do is recognize that everyone’s job is going to change. What everyone does, how we work alongside the machines, is going to change over time. These skills of flexibility, agility, grit, resilience, and continuing to learn how to learn — we need to instill these in people as an expectation and something that you can train to do over time.”

While technological advances mean some skill sets will no longer be needed, historically they have created more jobs than they eliminated, even beyond what we could conceive of at the time. Chui points to the job of app developer for mobile phones as an example. A few decades ago that job was unheard of. Again, flexibility and the ability and willingness to learn and adapt will determine readiness for new opportunities.

Is your business ready for the industrial automation revolution?

The impact of industrial automation on career trends is an inescapable reality. Is your workforce ready? Bradsby Group is ready to partner with you to find top talent with a lifelong learning mindset for your leadership roles. Contact us today to discuss your hiring goals with one of our industrial automation recruiters.

If you are a job seeker who works in the industrial automation, controls, and robotics sector, or hopes to, how are you positioning yourself for the high-level work that only humans can do? If you are ready for the future, send us your resume.

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