Accelerating Towards Automation

The acceleration of automation is not a direct outcome of the pandemic – it is simply more visible now. That visibility is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise horrible several months. The inequities that exist in the world are now more visible. The lack of preparation for a digital future has exposed those who did not see the need. In the case of automation, it was going to accelerate for a number of reasons, but the pandemic will Accelerate the Acceleration. One clear reason that this decade will see a massive investment in automation is the fall in Working Age population. Said another way, it is getting increasingly difficult to find skilled resources.

This skilled resource dilemma underscores the need to reimagine education – a topic that I will focus on in November. Importantly, the pandemic has focused on a different topic: automation in the context of social distancing. This recent Article explores the topic in the context of manufacturing. Per the article:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 primarily spreads between people in close contact for extended periods of time. Keeping individuals apart is essential to preserving public health. Automation can help manufacturers achieve adequate distance by enabling the same work with fewer workers.

Social distancing is not the only reason automation in manufacturing is likely to accelerate. As referenced above, manufacturing is not immune to labor shortages. The author states that pre-pandemic, manufacturing faced a shortage of skilled employees, and that this skills gap could lead to 2.4 million unfilled jobs by 2028. As many no longer seek employment in manufacturing, automation could be a solution versus a job destroyer.

As many economists have said over the last decade, digital shows up everywhere but the productivity numbers. Automation can change that, especially in a domain where profitability is a prominent concern amid the pandemic. One survey referenced by the article showed that 78.3% of manufacturers anticipate a major financial change as a result of COVID-19. Automation may provide a way out. Per the article:

Robots can bolster employees’ efforts, making factories more efficient without sacrificing health and safety. Some companies have automated as much as 8,000 hours of labor that a worker would have to do otherwise. The manufacturing industry’s shift toward automation was all but inevitable. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t ignite this transition, but it did push it further, causing adoption rates to jump several years ahead. As the outbreak has highlighted shortcomings in traditional approaches, the benefits of automation become abundantly clear.

That last piece can be applied across every domain. The pandemic is serving as a Catalyst, driving both innovation and human action. You are likely to hear the word accelerate a lot in the short-term future.

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