It's great to see that the robotics industry is taking off and serving a jobs-creation vehicle. Hopefully many of those jobs are in the United States and not just offshore. Just so I'm clear, the bulk of the jobs creation the study cites is related to jobs at the robotics technology companies, not at the end user sites actually putting the robots to work in industrial applications.
I'm a skeptic here. First off, the demarcation between robots creating jobs and the robotics industry creating jobs is not really clear. If it's the latter, yeah, sure, there are going to be jobs making robots. As well, to say that there are going to be 1 million jobs created -- well, I'm not sure that number is all that impressive in the context of the number of jobs that'll be made obsolete by robots. I should caveat this by saying I support the robots industry. I'm just saying that the gross-level economic argument set forth in this story is not as impressive as it's made out to be.
I'm also skeptical, as I would be about statements that jobs are being created in any industry, since they are also being taken away on a regular basis, by robots or by other factors and trends. And I'm even more skeptical when an industry association tells me that something the industry's doing is really not harmful, especially if there's been a hint that it is harmful. That sounds like spin. For one thing, assuming the displacement from blue-collar to technical jobs is true, it still means that a lot of blue-collar workers are out of a job? Whether there's a net loss or a net gain is anyone's guess. And saying that robots do jobs humans wouldn't do because they are too dangerous--uh, humans will do those jobs anyway if they need to be done. For example, miners in West Virginia.
Yes, I can understand the skepticism. The study wisely chose to not make the claim that the robotics industry was creating more jobs than it was eliminating. It's not inconceivable, though. Many economists argued that the computer industry spent decades displacing jobs -- from clerical to technical -- rather than delivering a net reduction in jobs. Some claim the computer industry didn't actually begin reducing jobs until the late 80s or early 90s.
Assuming robots create jobs, isn't it the case they are creating a new breed of jobs? Likely for someone who's more educated? If I have a high level of education and/or technical training, I would imagine there wouldn't be an issue. If I'm low on the education/training scale, I would imagine times could be tougher. Is that the case, Rob?
How's this for a spin: Manufacturing companies do not exist for the purpose of employing unskilled labor. They exist to make products that people want to buy at a price they're willing to pay, and to provide profits for shareholders, like me.
One should not expect companies to provide jobs for people with few skills anymore than one should expect companies to lower their prices so that people with little money can afford their products. Or would you like them to cut corners in order to do so, like making products that don't last, are full of defects, or are unsafe? You don't get something for nothing.
The expectations placed on automotive manufacturers to produce better, faster, safer, more durable, more fuel efficient, cleaner, cheaper, and yet larger vehicles requires engineering know-how, expensive equipment, and - yes- robots. It doesn't require more unskilled hands.
Thanks for your comment, kcp. You make a valid Ron Paul-sian point,. My comment expressing skepticism about the job numbers in the survey wasn't meant to argue one way or another the issue about who should or shouldn't provide jobs. It was simply to say that the numbers bandied about didn't seem to make sense.
The numbers may be biased, and it's most likely true that most of the jobs gained by the use of robots are high-tech jobs. I take issue with those who question the morality of companies using robots instead of hiring blue-collar labor to do the same job. To claim that someone is putting a "spin" on the numbers is to imply that someone is doing something evil that they want to paint as being good.
Skepticism can be healthy...to a point. Suspecting spin up-front can be good. However, the 70-page report done by London-based Metra Martech is only two clicks away -- the link in the press release takes you to the same press release on the International Federation of Robotics website. The link to the report PDF is at the bottom of that page. You will find plenty of charts and tables and text, including data challenges encountered and decisions made to resolve those challenges. Some content might reduce your skepticism, or tend to increase it. Either way, your thinking about it beyond an initial impression will be worthy. One tidbit: the U.S. lags other countries in the use of robots, BTW, I have no relationship to the aurhors or IFR -- and didn't even know about this study until I read it in DesignNews email. Thanks for posting it!
Truchard will be presented the award at the 2014 Golden Mousetrap Awards ceremony during the co-located events Pacific Design & Manufacturing, MD&M West, WestPack, PLASTEC West, Electronics West, ATX West, and AeroCon.
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