The robots are coming — and the companies building them are looking for workers


As automation becomes more prevalent in various industries, it is undeniable that certain jobs will be eliminated in the coming years. However, this also presents an opportunity for workers to transition into roles related to building and implementing the technology. Whether in the form of humanoid or nonhumanoid robots, the adoption of robotics is expected to have varying impacts on employment. According to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report for 2023, companies anticipate growth, worker displacement, or a neutral effect due to robotics in nearly equal proportions.

The study highlights that sectors such as electronics, energy tech, utilities, and consumer goods are most likely to embrace robotics. Different industries may experience different effects. For instance, the production of consumer goods and the oil and gas industry anticipate a 60% loss of jobs due to automation. Conversely, 60% of companies operating in information and technology services expect job creation as a result of robots in the next five years.   

Zipline, a robotics company based in San Francisco, California, is actively seeking to hire at least 100 new employees. The startup specializes in designing, building, and operating autonomous delivery drones. Their client range includes over 4,000 hospitals, the government of Rwanda, and major brands such as Walmart, GNC, Toyota, and Sweetgreen. They have job openings in various roles, from electrical and mechanical engineering to coding and security. Zipline's CEO, Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, expresses the company's aggressive plan for growth in the coming years, despite the current challenging startup landscape.

According to Rinaudo Cliffton, the current delivery ecosystem is slow, expensive, and detrimental to the environment. The integration of automation in this field offers numerous benefits for customers, workers, and the planet. Rinaudo Cliffton believes that technology not only changes the nature of jobs but also dramatically increases productivity. By replacing traditional single delivery methods with a fleet of robots managed by a human operator, the number of deliveries per hour can significantly increase, resulting in higher pay for the operator.

The Association for Advancing Automation highlights two advantages of automation in companies, regardless of their size. Firstly, it eliminates monotonous and dangerous tasks from workers' responsibilities, enhancing their day-to-day roles. Secondly, it allows companies to stay competitive and efficient in the production process. Additionally, automation can help alleviate ongoing labor shortages.

Jeff Burnstein, the president of the Association for Advancing Automation, emphasizes that automation serves as a tool to make employees more effective in their current jobs and better suited for future job opportunities, which often come with higher pay and improved safety. However, achieving a delicate balance is crucial, as businesses must ensure that automation enhances employees' lives without entirely replacing them. Concerns from unions and labor rights advocates highlight the challenge of managing the adoption of robotics, with worries that human functions may be completely replaced.

Burnstein points out that China's extensive use of robotics demonstrates the increasing importance of automation in maintaining a competitive edge in global business. Despite having an abundance of low-cost labor, even countries like China rely on automation to remain competitive.

Overall, the adoption of automation offers opportunities for job growth, increased productivity, and improved working conditions, albeit with the necessary consideration of balancing human roles with technological advancements.   

The adoption of automation in the food service industry aims to increase productivity and efficiency in restaurants. One example is Vebu Labs, a company based in El Segundo, California, which is collaborating with Chipotle to develop a robot called the Autocado. This robot assists in prepping avocados for Chipotle's guacamole. Another robot, Chippy, developed by Miso Robotics, is being tested by Chipotle to automate chip-making tasks. These initiatives allow workers to focus on other important kitchen tasks and make their labor more effective.

Vebu Labs is experiencing high demand for its services and aims to hire over 40 workers in various roles, including engineering, accounting, and fabrication. The shortage of labor in the restaurant industry is a significant challenge, according to Vebu CEO Buck Jordan. This scarcity of workers is not a transitory issue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic but rather a persistent problem. 

While automation solves labor challenges in some sectors, there is a shortage of workers with the necessary skills to develop and operate robots. Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), emphasizes the need for more training in robot usage and development. He suggests that the traditional notion of obtaining a four-year degree or higher education may not be the only path to securing great jobs. Companies are now hiring individuals with technical skills straight out of high school due to the shortage of skilled workers. It is essential for the country to address this issue to facilitate the adoption of automation by companies that lack the in-house expertise to operate these machines effectively.   

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