The Automation Job Shift

The greatest impact of technology in our lives is not the level of convenience it brings but the impact on the workplace. The impact of technology and automation in the agricultural field has moved many subsistence farmers into the cities because their raw labor is no longer required to raise crops, while improving yields and lowering the cost of foods. In the 1800s and 1900s, the displaced agricultural labor filled the growing factories to make consumer goods, processed foods, cheaper necessities and medicines. As technology advances, we are seeing automation expand into the factory. In the developed world, robots replaced a high proportion of the high priced labor while other work moved to developing nations with lower labor costs. Now automation is so cheap that even China and India are seeing the impact of technology on the shop floor.

Automation does not simply replace low skill assembly workers with a robot. Automation causes a job shift, with new work created and moved to other areas. What job shifts occur when automation is introduced?

* Maintenance of the automated machines becomes a top priority, since the machines are more productive than people. However, the maintenance itself requires people.
* While machines require less supervision by human resources and managers, each machine or group of machines in a work cell still require monitoring by a human. Monitors may prevent jams or alert maintenance and repair staff when a problem arises.
* Scheduling and optimization of automated equipment’s usage requires human effort.
* The assembly work by low skill employees is reduced, replaced by the automated production equipment. However, these employees may be used to increase the labor investment in the product at later stages. They can be moved into personalization of mass produced items, increased quality control checks or packaging and shipping.
* The shift to automation increases the demand for those who help build automated machinery.
* Automation increases demand for both programmers and code checkers.
* As automation increases, the demand for those who train highly skilled assembly personnel who work with automated equipment increases.
* Theoretically, those who used to work in manufacturing can go to work in the service sector, being paid to specialize and provide services the remaining manufacturing workforce and white collar employees do not want to perform.

Why the Service Economy Can Fail with Further Automation
In the past, it was assumed that the automation job shift from low skill and poorly paid assembly workers to a smaller number of highly skilled laborers would also correspond to a rise in the service economy. The smaller but better paid industrial workers working along automated production lines would use their discretionary income on services provided by those workers who used to work in manufacturing. These service jobs could range from cooking (the fast food industry) to childcare to walking the dog. This did occur during the late 20th century as fast food establishments, beauty salons, childcare facilities, housekeeping, elder care facilities and many types of businesses arose to allow individuals to essentially outsource their chores and home responsibilities. However, the economic downturn of the 2000s has revealed that service industry jobs are highly dependent upon disposable income. The losses of a few highly skilled automation plant workers such as engineers and plant equipment operators causes many more service industry workers to lose their jobs.

My name is Ron, and I’m a technology fan for almost 30 years and the author of the website “