Manufacturing Automation & Labor Shortages
The continuous blame placed on Covid-19 for our country’s current production and supply issues has become the news cycle equivalent of white noise. It’s easy to look at a problem and say, “that happened because of Covid,” and people will nod in agreement and move on.
However, that diagnosis does little to solve the real problems we’re still facing. Covid was the precipitating cause of a major upheaval from how things used to be, especially in manufacturing. Today, this means labor shortages coupled with unprecedented demand for consumer goods delivered directly to their door.
These two factors are why businesses are currently developing and incorporating automation technologies on a massive scale. Industrial automation has reached a level of quality, accessibility, and speed that has perfectly positioned it to address the challenges posed by a fleeing workforce and more voracious consumers. But what does a labor shortage actually mean, and what allowed it to happen?
To understand this, we are going to:
- Clarify what is a labor shortage
- Understand why is there a labor shortage happening now
- Examine how automation can genuinely help address this labor shortage
What is a labor shortage?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has noted several factors that can cause a labor shortage: “Shortages occur in a market economy when the demand for workers for a particular occupation is greater than the supply of workers who are qualified, available, and willing to do that job.” So a succinct labor shortage definition could be:
A low supply of workers who are
- Willing to do the job
Interestingly, it does appear that we are in that perfect storm scenario where all three of these are happening on a large scale in the manufacturing labor market. It’s pretty easy to see that there is indeed an imminent labor shortage problem. What’s not so easy to see is why there is a problem, because the labor shortages in manufacturing and other industries can’t be attributed entirely to Covid-19.
Why is there a labor shortage happening now?
Sure, Covid is a big reason. US manufacturing output fell at a 43-percent annual rate during the first and second quarters of 2020. That took many employees out of the workforce. However, by the end of 2020, output bumped back up and actually outperformed pre-pandemic levels. Many workers were able to get back on the manufacturing line. Still, this short-term disruption had long-term consequences that manufacturers are struggling with, such as supply chain disturbances, which also impact labor.
Additionally, issues such as an aging workforce and a trending skills gap are having a negative impact on manufacturing. Neither of these things are necessarily due to Covid. However, Covid certainly made both of these existing problems worse. The economic slowdown encouraged many older workers to retire earlier. It also opened up new remote work opportunities, which are more attractive to many younger workers than manufacturing jobs.
How can automation help address labor shortages?
While the “great resignation” continues to amble on, American manufacturing has a potential for a great resurgence. The opportunities are there, but experts say it is critically short of the labor it needs to drive this revolution.
Manufacturers are well aware of this, and have already started making adjustments and major pivots by incrementally adding automation into their manufacturing assembly lines. What’s especially noticeable is how the current manufacturing labor shortage has been a catalyst for manufacturers to incorporate many new innovations quickly.
Manufacturing companies embracing automation technologies is not new. Covid did not invent this trend; that’s been happening since the early 1900s. What is new is where manufacturers are incorporating automation, which is practically everywhere. Automation is now being used in:
Although automation is becoming ubiquitous, it’s still not at the point where it has removed the need for all workers. In fact, all of the new developments in automation may actually end up creating even more job opportunities. In the meantime, businesses can leverage automation to free up the skilled workers they do have so those workers can focus on other critical tasks.
How +Vantage Can Help with Automation
+Vantage is a global company with offices and support centers worldwide. We can help implement turnkey automation systems and other improvements to your manufacturing line to help with overall operational efficiency. If you are ready to introduce more robust automation technologies into your manufacturing line, we are an automation company you can trust.
From battery assembly to aerospace/automotive assembly automation, we tailor our approach to meet your needs. No matter the size of your business, our experts will work with you to find the most effective system to streamline your process and increase your productivity. Learn more about the +Vantage approach and how we can benefit your manufacturing process.
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