The discussion about industrial automation replacing the human workforce has a long history and goes back to the Industrial Revolution, but it is the advent of the PC in the 80s that has changed the way we work forever. The discussion has generated a number of myths. What often remains behind the scenes is how technology ends up creating more jobs than it destroys. As industrial automation is doing a certain task faster, cheaper and safer, it creates a demand for a human workforce to perform other tasks to tend to industrial automation itself.

Another myth is the perception of a “factory worker” as a low-skilled, low-paid employee. This is a dramatically outdated perception, as manufacturing is one of the highest paying careers. The manufacturing sector demands increasingly sophisticated technical skills of all modern factory workers.

Unlike the hazardous and dirty factories of the past, modern factory floors are cleaner, safer and better equipped with high-end industrial computers than most outsiders to the industry realize. A skilled worker in the industrial sector has better prospects of a stable employment than in many other sectors.

This misconception of a factory worker as a low-skill employee, in turn, creates a self-inflicted obstacle for the young generations – even though the majority of parents agree on the importance of the manufacturing sector for the country’s economy, few of them would encourage their kids to pursue a career in manufacturing.

The education sector is slow to adapt, too, failing to provide enough skilled workers. Why? Again, the misconception about automation cutting jobs in the manufacturing sector has urged young people to pursue careers in the services sector. In response, the education sector has reduced the focus on the technical education.

Skills Gap

With the growing anxiety about the industrial automation leaving factory workers unemployed, thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector go unfilled across the U.S. and globally.

Since 2009, the number of jobs in manufacturing has risen, with 2016 hitting the 15-year high, according to Labor Department. Openings in manufacturing in 2016 average 353,000 per month, up from 122,000 in 2009. In 2000, 53% of workers in the manufacturing sector had high school education, but by 2015 that share dropped to 44%. The share of workers with college or graduate degrees increased eight points. A study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that 2016 is the first year when college-educated manufacturing workers outnumbered those with a high-school diploma and less.

A 2015 survey by Deloitte found that recruiting an engineer takes businesses 94 days in average, a skilled production worker – 70 days.

Industrial automation and globalization cut the demand for the low-skilled worker who does not have the necessary skills to manage the new equipment. Yet, the jobs requiring technical skills and a degree in STEM disciplines face a dramatic staff shortage, which delays businesses from increasing their production and growth.

The machinery used in industrial automation becomes increasingly sophisticated. The positions of technicians with the mechanical and electrical skills needed to maintain these machines often go unfilled for months as recruiters search for candidates with a bachelor’s or associate’s diploma in manufacturing engineering.

Science & engineering degrees are high in demand in research-driven sectors, such as pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing, or aerospace. Hard-to-fill positions of maintenance technicians and machinists require a college degree or apprenticeship.

A report by Citigroup provides a deep insight into the future of employment affected by industrial automation:

  • There will be over 9.5 million additional and 98 million replacement jobs in all sectors from 2013 to 2025, in EU.
  • In the U.S., the IT, health and industrial sectors are predicted to have the largest number of job openings.
  • Job polarization will increase as more jobs will be created on the top and the bottom of the sector.
  • Most jobs in demand and with high stability rate will be characterized by non-routine tasks, creativity, analytical skills that can not be replaced by technology.
  • Manufacturing is one of the most promising sectors for the creation of new jobs in autos, robotics, 3D printing, and transportation.
  • New jobs for automotive engineers estimate at nearly 100,000.

New Jobs

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) estimates the increase in industrial automation over the next 5 years would create one million high-quality jobs in the industrial sector. As the machines become smarter, faster and cheaper, they will create more jobs for the technicians that tend to them, engineers that design and build them, and testers that analyze and deploy them.

In 2012, there were 133,000 robot engineers and 17,000 robotics technicians in the U.S. By 2022, robot engineers positions are expected to increase by 30,000, and over 4,000 for robot technicians.

Computer controlled machine operators, mechanical engineering technicians, industrial software programmers and data analysts, machine setters, operators, and tenders are among the positions that will see an increase in job openings due to industrial automation.

Automotive engineers designing new vehicles and automotive engineer technicians assisting them in defining the practicality of their design are two emerging job types expected to grow by 7% by 2022 in the U.S., with 100,000 and 12,000 openings respectively. The skills required for these jobs include computer-aided manufacturing, analytical software design, and development of environmental software.

The use of drones and unmanned aircraft systems is expected to populate precision agriculture and public safety, replacing some farming jobs, construction site monitoring, and surveillance of oil and gas pipelines. Yet, creating more than 34,000 jobs in 2017, and a total of 103,776 by 2025 in drones manufacturing sector.

Addressing The Skills Gap

In order to address the skills gap, manufacturers need to do better, says Deloitte, by engaging their existing workforces & providing the training necessary to acquire the new skills. 7 out of 10 executives polled by Deloitte reported shortage of staff with necessary technology, computer, and technical training skills:

  • 94% agree internal employee training and development programs are the most effective strategies in developing a skilled production workforce.
  • 72% said involving local schools and community colleges is effective.

What Employees Can Do To Make The Switch To New Jobs

Manufacturing workers best equipped to fill the talent gap possess technical skills that complement IT and automation technology. They possess a combination of a college degree, math skills, a working knowledge of computers and an ability to think critically, or trade-based skills that can not be automated. Workers who want to make the switch to the new jobs will need to acquire a high-tech skill set:

  • mechanical reasoning
  • spatial visualization
  • logic troubleshooting
  • operating computerized machinery, and using industrial computers for a wide range of operation-critical functions
  • be familiar with industrial software user interfaces, have the ability to work with computerized systems
  • understand hydraulic, electrical, pneumatic systems
  • have knowledge of mechanical and electrical engineering processes
  • have the ability to read manufacturing blueprints, read/write machine programming code
  • ability to operate automated manufacturing systems


Manufacturers now focus on preventive maintenance, machine programming, and technical troubleshooting, so many factories need technicians capable of debugging assembly lines to restore the corrupt code in a factory’s operating software.

The bottom line is you can’t obtain these skills from a manual or a short-term course. You need the base such as a trade school certification of a bachelor’s degree. From there, you take the training or apprenticeship courses with the manufacturers of the industrial automation machines, or the factories that deploy them.

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