Why Automation Equals Opportunity for Manufacturing Jobs in Australia

4 min

Within the manufacturing industry, the term ‘automation’ has, to an extent, become synonymous with fear. This stems from estimations that thousands of jobs in Australia will be decimated by 2030, clearing the way for a new era of advanced technology which is cost effective and drives greater efficiencies. It is estimated that by 2030, 800 million jobs could be displaced globally, so understandably, and depending on the sources you read, that fear feels completely justifiable.

But what if automation equals opportunity, to a scale that we can’t completely foresee just yet? (We are still 11 years from 2030, and 11 years ago jobs like Social Media Manager were barely a concept). Technological advances are no longer just a possibility, they are a reality and so too is the fact that the workforce must adapt to meet these advances. As we have seen time and again, rather than force devastation on existing workers, this adaption has delivered greater opportunities for developing and upskilling workforces.

According to the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry and Science, Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution, fuelled by advanced automation, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, will make the country’s economy soar, which could be worth $2.2 trillion – and what’s good for the economy is generally good for its people.

Automation and manufacturing jobs

It’s hard to ignore the rise and strength of automation in the manufacturing sector: last month supermarket powerhouse Coles announced its plans to build two automated distribution centres to compete with competitor Woolworths’ advances in machine technology.  This was met with a mixture of excitement – lower supply chain costs and enhanced business competitiveness cited as contributing factors – and worry. Coles confirmed that job losses in existing centres were likely, but the fact remains that these losses will give rise to roles which are intrinsically linked to machine technology: automation / robotics engineers etc.

The question that industry professionals, and educators before them, should be asking is how do we develop adequate training and education to upskill existing and future workforces so that job losses are minimal or non-existent? We know it’s doable, every revolution that’s come before has proven that, and more than that, advances in technology have historically created considerably more jobs than they have quashed – so the future, tied up in a pretty artificially intelligent bow, doesn’t seem so dire.

Collaborative robots

Organisations have already begun embracing robotics as an addition to workforces, rather than a replacement. These collaborative robots (or ‘cobots’) are revolutionising efficiency by performing the repetitive, often mundane tasks which people often spend too much time on. Last year, Wired reported that a robot painter in California had increased human productivity fourfold and not a single job in the business was lost, showing that not only is the co-existence of man and machine in the workplace possible, but that it can also improve the quality of the work people do.

Automation recruitment in the future

Much research has been conducted into what a future that wholly embraces automation would look like. Some of this is uncertain, as change often is, but a huge amount is positive. Management Consultancy, McKinsey Global shared a fairly optimistic outlook in its comprehensive review of automation globally and how it will impact jobs. It concluded that in many ways automation technology will champion economic growth and rise in productivity. With a growing economy, there is greater likelihood of job creation than destruction.

That’s not to argue that there won’t be some job losses and a considerable change in how we work and what we do: that is inevitable, but if we begin a process of adapting, educating and embracing opportunity, we could massively support in upskilling and retaining talent, as well as create opportunities for new skilled hires.

Whilst there is likely to be a shortage in skilled talent in automation in the long term as companies begin investing in training and development, I am actually seeing a lot of companies embrace technological changes in this sector and adapt their recruitment policies to the changing landscape.

As a result, I am currently working on a number of specialist roles in this area, which include automation engineers, and am confident that this is the start of increased demand for collaborative working between humans and robots.