Did the Pandemic Really Increase Automation?

The Economist is swimming against the tide on the question of how much influence the pandemic has had on the spread of automation. The majority position is that COVID-19 pushed automation to a position we weren’t expecting to see until years into the future.

Whether robots came in to replace workers who could have gotten sick or to protect workers so they would not get sick, many experts worry that the rise in automation could mean fewer jobs for human workers as businesses reopen.

Labor shortages

The Economist is looking at the labor shortages in the United States. We have 9.3 million unfilled positions. “Can pandemic-induced automation really be creating an army of surplus workers if employers are complaining of a deficit?” they ask.

They have a point.

However, the April jobs report said that there are 9.2 million unemployed people in the United States. You’d think there could just be a simple slotting of people into jobs and we’d all be set.

But the empty jobs don’t necessarily match the jobless people. Here are some of the factors:

  • Some workers won’t have affordable child care until schools reopen, so they can’t work…or at least not at the wages being offered.
  • Some workers are receiving as much money staying at home as they would make if they accepted a job. This is showing up in the hospitality industry, where pay is low and the jobs can be unpleasant. Some workers who lost those jobs in the pandemic have moved on to greener pastures.
  • Some workers don’t have the skills needed for jobs requiring technical training.

These are not workers whose jobs have been taken buy machines, but they are people who can’t easily step into the jobs that are admittedly available to them.

Robot deliveries

The Economist also points out that actual deliveries of industrial robots in the U.S. fell by 3% in 2020.

They admit that this probably had to do with the supply chain issues that we all faced in 2020, but again — they’ve got a point.

Did you increase your facility’s level of automation during the pandemic? Are you going to do so now, as we mop up and get back up to speed?

If you need Rexroth support, we should be the first people you call. We specialize in Rexroth electric industrial motion control. Whether you have the latest stuff or the oldest stuff, we can help with all your support and service needs.

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