While the discussion of onshoring U.S. manufacturing predates the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues and shortages of key components resulting from the global disruption of trade has intensified the focus on renewing America’s manufacturing base. However, efforts to grow manufacturing in the states are coming up against a labor shortage that predates the current crisis.
After the Great Recession, manufacturing was slower than many other sectors to add jobs. It has also been slower than other sectors to bounce back from the large number of jobs shed at the start of the pandemic—so far it has regained 75% of the 1.4 million jobs lost then [i]. Job numbers show that the demand for manufacturing workers is far exceeding available supply, with a historic high number of openings (892,000) in August 2021. According to a Deloitte report on the 2022 manufacturing outlook, the higher productivity and growth in this sector are likely to be inhibited by the scarcity of labor in the coming year [ii].
The answer to the problem of how to scale up manufacturing when human capital is hard to find is automation and robotics. Advances in what can be accomplished with machines and AI are pointing the way to a future where U.S. manufacturing can grow competitively. This will create new opportunities—and new challenges—for both workers and businessowners.
Automation has long been regarded with suspicion by those who fear the loss of manufacturing jobs. The perception is that machines are a net negative for human workers because they take over tasks formerly done by people, eliminating jobs in the process. The reality is more complex, however. It’s true that when simple tasks can be assigned to machines, low-skill jobs disappear. However, the use of automation has also changed the character of manufacturing work in a way that benefits workers.
By removing the necessity for people to perform repetitive and/or strenuous tasks, automation reduces workplace injuries from strain, overuse, and accidents. Automation also boosts overall productivity, efficiency, and accuracy. After all, machines can potentially work around the clock with unvarying precision, freeing up workers to take on higher-skilled tasks that aren’t readily automated. In short, strategically deployed automation magnifies the effectiveness of your existing labor force by increasing the work that can be done—a critical advantage in a constrained hiring market.
Meanwhile, adding machines to a production line doesn’t eliminate the need for human workers, it only changes it. Specialized technicians are needed to install, maintain, test, calibrate, and repair the increasingly complex systems in place in modern manufacturing facilities. Machines may be able to perform tasks longer and more accurately than people can, but they can’t work indefinitely without proper support and maintenance. And finally, the systems themselves must be designed, optimized, and updated by engineers who create the hardware and software.
For companies looking to take advantage of the renewed interest in onshoring U.S. manufacturing without delay, as well as wanting to set themselves up for sustainable profitability into the future, automation is the clear way forward.
To fully realize the potential benefit of automation, robotics, and AI in manufacturing, businesses will need engineers and software developers with the right skills and experience. This may seem like trading one kind of hiring headache for another, as engineering and technical roles are also difficult to fill and increasingly in demand, but it doesn’t have to be. When the competition to fill specialized positions is fierce, companies need to give themselves every advantage in finding the right candidate.
Integress is a boutique technical search firm focused on finding engineering and tech candidates to fit hard-to-fill roles. We work hard to identify and successfully recruit top candidates to fit your company’s needs and culture. Our high-touch process combines modern technology and deep hiring expertise to not just find the best match, but to also help you craft an offer that will convince the right person to come work for you. To find out more about how our services can streamline your hiring process, contact us here.