Covid-19 has brought the automation doomsayers out in full force – and handed them plenty of ammo. In an attempt to minimize public health risks and cut down on costs, toll collectors in Pennsylvania have been replaced by license plate scanners, Bay Area hotels have introduced room-service robots and retail and fast-food jobs worldwide have gone the way of cashier-less transactions.
The pandemic, according to the automation skeptics, has accelerated our transition to a future state where robots have taken all our jobs. And they may be right. If history is any indication, it’s unlikely that humans will be working as toll collectors or cashiers once those jobs have been automated.
But it would be unfair and inaccurate to lump manufacturing in with this future state, as many have these past few months. Despite recent headlines (“Robots are coming for you!”) and reports – like this one from McKinsey – saying that manufacturing employment is one of the areas most vulnerable to automation in coming years, the fact of the matter is that the job losses from automation have largely already occurred in manufacturing. The thousands and thousands of vacant manufacturing jobs available today – amid sky-high unemployment numbers – represent just one proof point.
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