Automation is here, but so too is a deeper appreciation for investing in learning and skills development for human workers.
This time, the robots really are coming.
For the first time, the majority of robots ordered last year in North America won’t be going to automotive factories. Instead, companies in the consumer goods, pharmaceutical, and biomedical industries are responsible for a significant upturn in orders.
The COVID-19 pandemic made new standards for social distancing critical, and that, in turn, has empowered companies to turn to robots. Employers across the country turbocharged their investments in technology and automation. These accelerated investments, combined with a crippling recession and mass layoffs, disproportionately affected low-wage workers, women, and underrepresented minorities.
Scientist and fiction writer Isaac Asimov once wrote, “You can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans.” The fear of automation, if not robot overlords, has been a fixation of business analyses and science fiction for generations. So with U.S. employers embarking on a clearer path toward machines, it might be easy to read these developments as a dire sign for American workers. In particular, some victims of robots would seem to be investments in areas like upskilling and education. The presumption might be that building a better bot gives you more bang for your buck.