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Mar 2024
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Tackling Labor Shortage with Robotics: 10 key findings for the Next-Gen

Robots will play a key role in overcoming the shortage of skilled workers. However, technological change alone will not solve the problem for us: In order to prepare future generations for the way we will work in the future, there also needs to be a cultural or general rethink - by everyone involved. In its accompanying position paper, the IFR has compiled 10 key findings that are and will be important for future collaboration between humans and robots.

Labor shortage: A global problem

Industries around the world are facing a shortage of skilled workers, e.g. truck drivers, warehouse staff or port workers. Various areas of logistics supply chains are affected by this problem. However, this affects not only Europe, but also Asia and the USA in equal measure, although the underlying causes of the labor shortage differ in each case. In Japan, new government working time regulations pose a challenge. In the United States, there is a general shortage of qualified logistics specialists in e-commerce warehouses. Germany, on the other hand, must face up to the consequences of demographic change and find new ways to continue employing older workers in physically demanding positions. According to one forecast, 22% of the global population will be over 60 years old by 2050. An ageing population therefore poses new challenges not only for Germany.

Will robots solve our problem?

Fortunately, we live in an age in which these challenges can be overcome with technological innovations. For example, some simple repetitive tasks can already be automated with industrial robots. In the period from 2017 to 2022, the global stock of industrial robots even increased by 13% (annual growth rate) and reached a new high with a total number of around 4 million installations. According to the position paper of the International Federation of Robotics, there will be two key developments for the future role of robots:

1. Robots fill gaps: Automation with robots can and will help to fill gaps created by the shortage of skilled workers. In addition, robots and automation are leading to a shift in the type of work that humans do. They are taking over tasks that are difficult or dangerous for humans, such as heavy lifting or working in hazardous environments. However, effective collaboration and a shift in activities also requires employees to be upskilled and reskilled accordingly.
2. Robots create new jobs: Contrary to the misconception that robots will replace humans, studies show a completely different development: they will change existing jobs for the better and pave the way for new types of positions. To ensure that the employees of the future are equipped with the necessary skills, intensive cooperation between companies, robot manufacturers, educational institutions, etc. is essential.

It is clear that technological change (such as the use of artificial intelligence in robotics) alone will not solve the problems of the skills shortage. Rather, cultural change plays a key role: the way we work will change significantly. This requires openness, rethinking and appropriate measures from all stakeholders in order to prepare future generations for the future. In the position paper "Next Generation Skills", the IFR has defined 10 key findings - consisting of facts, requirements and recommendations for action.

Robots & labor shortage: 10 Key Findings of the IFR

1. Labor shortages as a growing concern worldwide

As baby boomers retire and birth rates decline, there's a looming long-term workforce shortage, compounded by the World Health Organization's prediction of a doubling in the proportion of people over 60 by 2050. The "Great Resignation" and other employment shifts, marked by widespread voluntary departures from jobs, underscore concerns about growing labor shortages due to stagnant wages, limited career opportunities, and job dissatisfaction.

2. Manufacturers are struggling to hire workers

In 2023, Europe and the US struggled with manufacturing worker shortages, with 26% of European entrepreneurs affected and 616,000 unfilled jobs in the US. By 2030, Deloitte predicts 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs in the US. Asian countries like Korea and Japan are also facing similar challenges, prompting the introduction of visa schemes to attract foreign workers, especially in manufacturing.

3. Robotic adoption on the rise

Robot use has skyrocketed in the last decade (from 2017-2022 with an annual growth rate of 13%), the number of global installations is around 4 million.

4. Robots will not replace the human workforce

The future of robotics in manufacturing suggests a transformation rather than replacement of human workers. Over the next decade, it's expected that more than 50% of manufacturing operators will collaborate with robots. Robots will be utilized as tools for handling tedious, hazardous, and challenging tasks, allowing humans to focus on more meaningful work. Additionally, as robot interfaces become more user-friendly, operators will adapt and learn to program them, even without prior programming experience.

5. Robotic Adoption creates new job profiles

The increasing use of robotics in various industries is leading to the emergence of new job roles, such as Smart Factory Managers and Robot Teaming Coordinators, who oversee automation processes and facilitate collaboration between humans and robots. Additionally, specialized positions like Robot Debuggers and AI Optimization Experts are becoming essential for troubleshooting and improving robotic systems.

6. Governments need to invest in support measures

Solving such a significant challenge demands coordinated efforts from multiple stakeholders. It is imperative for governments to allocate resources towards developing appropriate infrastructure, policies, educational programs, and workforce training initiatives.

7. Attractive career paths in manufacturing are necessary

Manufacturers, educational institutions, and governments should encourage enticing career opportunities in manufacturing for both young and seasoned workers. Additionally, they should establish lifelong learning programs to support continuous skill development among employees.

8. Manufacturers must involver their workforce

Manufacturers should engage their workforce in formulating optimal automation strategies and guarantee that employees receive training to acquire new skills and adapt to emerging technologies.

9. Robot manufacturers need to continuously simplify programming

Robot manufacturers should persist in their efforts to streamline programming interfaces, making them more user-friendly to facilitate quicker and smoother adopt

10. Employees should take opportunities to upskill

Employees should proactively pursue opportunities to enhance their skills in cutting-edge technologies and engage in the integration of robots into current processes.

The key findings of the IFR position paper in a nutshell Source: IFR

Maurice Brodhun
Head of Marketing