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Labor shortage: 'You've got to start thinking that robots can do some of these jobs,' expert says

As companies struggle to find ways to take on the nationwide labor shortage, automation has become increasingly appealing.

Initially seen as a job killer, automation may actually be the answer to ongoing worker shortages, particularly in the manufacturing sector, which is projected to have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, according to a May 2021 study by Deloitte and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

“You've got to start thinking that robots can do some of these jobs,” Lauren Hein, head of advisor relations at ROBO Global, an investment firm specializing in automation investment, told Yahoo Finance Live (video above).

In July 2022, there were nearly six million unemployed workers but 10 million vacant jobs, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Rather than waiting to find enough workers to fill that void, Hein suggested automation as a reasonable alternative.

"Cobots (collaborative robots) is a major industry, and cobots are going to work alongside people — things we can’t do with just the machine," she said.

Automation creating new opportunities

Although 85 million jobs may be displaced by automation by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2020, 97 million new roles may emerge from the technology and possibly provide "better opportunities" for working professionals.

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), there are two reasons why. The first is that "the more computers are trained to conduct high-repetitive tasks that are often assigned to entry-level employees, the more roles focused on complex tasks with competitive salaries will arise in their place." In other words, younger professionals could have more career opportunities to choose from.

Robot technician Justin McPhail prepares a manufacturing robot for shipping to a customer in a FANUC American facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan, August 11, 2021. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Robot technician Justin McPhail prepares a manufacturing robot for shipping to a customer in a FANUC American facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan, August 11, 2021. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Automation can also help entry-level workers obtain higher salaries, according to HBR, since the new types of roles are ones that "no one has done before," making these individuals "more likely to be pioneers."

American business leaders seem open to the idea — a January 2022 survey by UiPath found that 78% of executives at U.S. companies stated they'd be likely to invest in or increase their investment in automation at their companies to navigate the labor shortage.

Additionally, according to the survey, 86% of executives view automation as a way for their employees to focus on "more creative work" instead of mundane, time-consuming tasks.

Many of the Fortune 1000 companies — including Amazon Web Services (AMZN) and IBM (IBM)— have already invested in AI platforms along with HR-focused and logistics automation.

Amazon, in particular, is a company that Hein sees as being able to benefit from increased logistics automation, especially since it had an attrition rate of 159% last year.

As it stands, just roughly 1 in 5 U.S. warehouses use some type of automation. Yet, the warehouse automation market could be valued at $41 billion by 2027.

"With wage inflation, automation is going to solve that problem to some extent, make the investment in robots, and you've got some sort of cost control there as opposed to the variability of labor," she said. “Robots are not going to replace people everywhere."

Tanya is a data reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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