Automation and artificial intelligence gains have already changed job responsibilities for logistics, manufacturing, mass transit and health care workers, the Crain’s Detroit Business said. According to a March report from Oxford University, even more jobs are subject to automation. Workers will need to continually adapt to new technology by learning new skills.
Technological change is occurring at a rapid pace, faster than in any point in history, but is it threatening the livelihood of the American, and Southeast Michigan, workforce?
Experts say that depends on whether organizational leaders learn to embrace the robot and shift human jobs to the right parts of the manufacturing or service-providing process: programming the robots, repairing and maintaining them, and adapting work processes as the economy continues to evolve.
In 2012, manufacturers sold 26,269 industrial robots in North America, a figure which is expected to rise to more than 31,000 by 2016, according to data by the International Federation of Robotics. That figure is expected to rise to near 200,000 industrial robots sold in 2016 globally.
Despite lower labor costs, largely due to automation, Michigan is adding manufacturing labor right now.
Manufacturing employment in the state increased 2 percent in 2013, adding 13,084 jobs, according to the 2014 Michigan Manufacturers Directory. The city of Detroit recorded its first gain since the recession, up 1.8 percent in 2013. Other cities with increases included Auburn Hills, up 5.8 percent; Sterling Heights, up 3.6 percent; and Warren, up 1.8 percent.
Frank Levy, professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a longtime researcher of technology’s impact on employment, said people often look for something to blame for employment shortfalls — and robots are easy targets.
“People have a short memory; the economy is still recovering from the financial collapse,” Levy said. “That was no ordinary recession, and people are looking for things to get better, but it takes time and it’s not due to technology.”