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While robots are taking more low-skill jobs, other jobs are being created

Posted at 9:49 AM, Dec 12, 2019

CLEVELAND — The headlines touting the rise of the robot can be scary at times and a study released this fall by the Century Foundation found that the Cleveland-Elyria region ranked as the 10th most susceptible to "robot intensity" or places where automation could impact workers and wages.

Still MAGNET, Cleveland's Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network says at least when it comes to manufacturing the rise of robotics doesn't the elimination of jobs.

"Our own surveys of hundreds of manufacturers show that a very small percent, less than 5% of manufacturers today would say they are using automation to replace people. Instead, they're using it to augment so that the person running a machine is able to run three of them at the same time and program them," said MAGNET CEO Ethan Karp. "The robot is doing the repetitive tasking that frankly isn't very inspiring for someone to do but also is something that a robot can do."

The Association for Advancing Automation says those collaborative robots actually help to grow jobs that allow companies to be more productive and hire more people. "What a robot application may do is it might take a task and typically it's, we call them the three D's, dirty, dull or dangerous tasks that either companies have a hard time finding qualified people to put in those tasks or if it's just not a job that anyone wants anyway," said Association Vice President Bob Doyle. "So if a robotic application is able to do that than the company is able to take that person, put them in a much more valuable type of task, allows them to be in a better work environment and a happier employee which is great for the company."

The re-training of that employee is key for the company because Karp says once a manufacturer has a good employee they don't want to lose them.

"Across Northeast Ohio today there are 8,000 open positions in manufacturing and these are careers," Karp said. "60% of manufacturers say that today they would have more growth, that means more revenue more profits, if they could find the people to run their companies. That statistic blows my mind."

Still to ensure that current employees are protected in the face of automation Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has proposed the Workers Right to Training Act that would require companies to provide training for workers whose jobs will change as a result of new technology, severance if they lose their jobs as a result and also he said, a simple heads up.

"Companies don't all of a sudden wake up and the next day add some technology, they plan it and they can plan to bring their employees in and to give them a shot at these jobs," Brown said. "And if a plant closes sometimes at least give the workers there some kind of parachute, some kind of soft landing."

Karp recognizes there are industries where that might be needed but in manufacturing right now market forces dictate otherwise.

"The shortage in manufacturing of individuals means every single manufacturer that we go out to has another role, probably a better role, for any person that is doing a repetitive task today," he said.

On a larger scale, Karp and Doyle agree that more needs to be done to change the mindset around manufacturing today to meet the needs of tomorrow. "There really is a skills gap and there's different studies that show their could be a gap of over 2 million jobs unfilled within the next several years in manufacturing if we don't do a better job of training these next generation workforce people," Doyle said.