The future of manufacturing jobs

A recent report published by The World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs 2020, delves into the ways in which our increasing adoption of automation will shape the future job market. Industry 4.0 has been on the manufacturing industry’s collective horizon for some time now, but the pandemic lockdowns of the spring have accelerated the journey towards its true fruition beyond all estimations, so what’s next?  

So-called ‘Industry 4.0’ represents a fourth industrial revolution, one that will see data and machine learning fuel innovation. Like many other industries, manufacturing has seen an uptick in automation and AI-powered processes in recent years, a trend made only more pertinent by the lockdowns of the pandemic. Companies are looking to be less human reliant, more efficient, and more self-sufficient in the wake of social distancing measures, dips in revenues, and the breakdown of supply chains experienced this year.

The report goes on to highlight how the different companies surveyed responded to questions about their workforce in relation to their increasing reliance on automated processes. Of those asked, 43% stated they plan to reduce their staff due to technology adoption, 41% plan to expand their use of contractors for more task-specific, specialised work, but 34% still said they plan to expand their workforce due to technology adoption.

It is estimated that by 2025, 97 million new jobs may emerge that are more suited to the new status quo. That is to say, the division of labour between human, machine, and algorithm, as opposed to just human vs. machine, which is the current paradigm.

To complement this new way of working, new jobs are predicted to have an emphasis on critical thinking and creativity, since these are two functions of human output that are harder for machines or algorithms to emulate. The report estimates that by 2025, nearly 85 million jobs could be lost to automation; jobs that are easier for a machine to replicate, such as parts assembly, will be hit the hardest.  

Manufacturing is one of the industries due to be most affected by our changing relationship with automated processes, as well as the new pandemic-aware world. Assembly lines have seen efficiency drops in the form of social distancing allowing a smaller number of employees to work at one time. Hygiene-related signs, sanitiser, screens, new shift patterns, sick/isolation pay or cover: these are just some of the considerations manufacturing employers will need to abide by when managing staff in the wake of Covid. And all this at a time where robotised and automated factory workforces are more accessible and efficient than ever? Many may decide that now is the right time to invest in these future-proofed technologies.

To help ease the transition towards our automated future, the paper presents the top skills employers report as being increasingly important in the next five years. Among them are critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving, as well as more personal traits such as self-management, stress tolerance, and active solo learning. This suggests a trend towards more situational troubleshooting-type roles in the future, as the more easily automated are swallowed up by the artificial workforce.

The full report can be downloaded here; a good read for anyone with or wanting a job. Given the uncertain nature of the world at present, any insights you can get are valuable. If you’ve got any questions that we can help with, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

The COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns and
related global recession of 2020 have created a
highly uncertain outlook for the labour market and
accelerated the arrival of the future of work

By Rebecca Garland on 28/10/2020