The decline in the number of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is to be blamed on both offshoring and automation. Experts estimate that since 1977, 80-90 percent of manufacturing jobs are lost due to productivity gains and not due to trade deals or foreign labor. Industrial robots have made productivity gains possible. MIT’s Daron Acemoglu and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo did a study that quantifies the gains in terms of job losses. They determined that six workers lost their jobs for every robot per thousand workers, and wages fell by 0.075 percent. Within the span of 27 years, robots eliminated up to 670,000 jobs.
Industrial robots are used the most in auto manufacturing and the manufacturing of metal products, plastics, and chemicals. Robots can easily weld, paint, and package without human interference. According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, along with repetitive manufacturing jobs, 45 percent of paid activities could also be automated with the current technologies. In addition, the report alleges that 30 percent of all 60 percent of occupations can be automated with the technology available today.
Automation is dependent on issues such as the implementation cost of automation against human labor, and if standards could be met with automation. For instance, robots could perform tests on valves, but would it be accepted and trusted by standards set by committees and end-users? On the contrary, research from The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF) says that rather than snatching jobs from humans, robotics might leave humans with better jobs. The CEO of CIEHF, Steve Barraclough, said, “Robots and automation are demonized. They might remove some mundane and repetitive jobs and help employees’ upskill, which is often overlooked.”
Barraclough also pointed out that automation requires people to learn to program and maintaining technology, which is a real opportunity for manufacturers. The workers who lost their jobs to automation are highly unlikely to possess the knowledge of automation and might require retraining. Due to enhanced tools of engineering, the complexity of the manufacturing industry has increased, and outsourcing jobs overseas is not a feasible option for manufacturers. However, many companies are making efforts to bring back jobs into the United States.