As manufacturing continues to change in profound ways, so too do the jobs and the skills required. Somewhere between the hands-on traditional blue collar jobs of the past and the white collar managerial roles is an emerging group of highly-skilled specialists that are redefining the American workforce.
“It’s not about white collar or blue collar…It’s about ‘new collar’ jobs – jobs that are high-tech, 21st-century, rewarding, well-paying jobs – even those that don’t require a four-year degree,” said Jay Timmons, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, in his recent “State of Manufacturing” address.
Innovation is changing the way the industry looks, and while it may appear on the surface that jobs are going away, they’re shifting to roles that require new sets of skills, Timmons says. A study by Deloitte on the impact of automation on jobs in the U.K. found that while automation and AI technologies eliminated 800,000 low-skilled jobs over the course of more than a decade, it also created 3.5 million new ones that paid an average of nearly $13,000 more per year. And in the “automation alley” in Oakland County, Timmons noted more than 19,000 manufacturing jobs were created since the Great Recession.
“Innovation and automation are expanding what American workers can do, making the impossible possible and transforming this industry for the better.” – NAM CEO & President Jay Timmons
While the public often views automation as a threat to traditional manufacturing jobs, it is exactly what will grow the workforce, Timmons says. He believes the recent tax reform bill, which enables manufacturers to immediately write off the full cost of new equipment, will spur manufacturers to invest more in new equipment, automation and smart technologies.
“Automation and job creation are not at odds…. American workers and American technology are not enemies. Innovation and automation are expanding what American workers can do, making the impossible possible and transforming this industry for the better,” Timmons said.
Automation is creating new jobs in many areas of manufacturing, not only in service and management of robotics but also by enabling humans to become more efficient and help the company grow. While companies such as Tesla are moving towards full automation, many auto manufacturers say human workers will still be a key part of the process. Honda, which recently won the North American Car of the Year award at the Detroit auto show for the Accord, noted that humans are an essential component. An article in Bloomberg noted that Toyota and Mercedes Benz also rely more on humans than on robotics o install the increasingly complex options that consumers demand. Many manufacturers use robots for tedious and repetitive tasks such as welding and painting then rely on humans to install motors, interior trim and components.
“We can’t find anything to take the place of the human touch and of human senses like sight, hearing and smell,” Tom Shoupe, chief operating officer of Honda’s Ohio manufacturing unit, told Bloomberg.