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Job categories across several industries are likely candidates for replacing workers with automated technologies. Here's a look at who may be affected and how this trend could play out.
Forrester Research recently projected that robotics and automation will displace 24.7 million jobs and create 14.9 million new jobs by 2027, with impact likely to be felt across many industries—from medical research and restaurants to construction and mining.
This has some job holders concerned about their futures, but for companies that can't find qualified or willing workers, robotics and automation offer a way out—and few Americans are going to object to it.
Just what jobs are companies are struggling to fill because people just don't want them? We need look no further than the trucking and warehouse distribution industries.
There are 3.5 million truck drivers across the country, and in 2015, the average annual wage for drivers was $40,000. Yet despite the fact that driving a truck is cited as a popular job in 29 US states, there was a shortage of 100,000 truck drivers nationwide at the beginning of 2017. In addition, the trucking workforce is aging, with the median age of 49 for active truck drivers.
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There are several reasons for this.
The economy has opened up new jobs for younger people who in the past would have considered trucking. These jobs enable workers to stay at home, earn better or equivalent wages, and avoid the stresses and strains of being on the road all of the time.
On top of that, the introduction of automated truck logging that records distance traveled, number and length of stops, engine and brake activity, etc., is perceived by some truckers as an intrusion on their privacy.
Warehouse and distribution
A similar situation exists at the warehouse and distribution centers where these trucks stop.
In March 2017, $26,000 was the average wage of an hourly warehouse worker. In the warehousing and storage industry, the median age of a worker is 39.8 years, but it's also telling that 38.4% of warehouse workers are over the age of 45.
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What to do?
"We implemented automation and robotics in our warehouse," one warehouse and distribution manager recently told me. "We have a lot of aging workers and can't attract or retain may younger ones because they can find other jobs that are less physically demanding. Meanwhile, what we are finding with our older workers is that after several decades of walking on the concrete floors, they develop knee problems. The more we can pick and pack goods by letting robots navigate the floors, the more we can save wear and tear on our workers."
A similar opportunity for robotics and automation exists in the trucking industry, which can't seem to attract enough younger workers to replace its aging workforce.
Other industries that can't find willing workers are also considering robotics. Among them are:
- Agricultural practices like apple picking, where producers are at risk because of new anti-immigration policies that threaten their historical labor supplies
- The food services industry, which is having trouble retaining workers and looking to employ robots to avoid having to pay higher wages
- Banking, which constantly deals with high attrition rates among tellers because of poor wages
"The reality of a physically demanding job conducted in sometimes extreme weather and working conditions creates an employment path that few American citizens choose or which they abandon quickly if they do try it," said a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture spokesperson when asked about the agricultural worker labor shortage.
This situation is similar in the fast food industry.
All these scenarios suggest compelling reasons for companies to adopt robotics and automation with little or no objection from Americans—and all will present a new set of challenges for keeping people employed in new roles.