July 15, 2016
In the legendary Kraftwerk song, The Robots, the robots sing “We are programmed just to do / anything you want us to”. And why not take them up on that and get them to create jobs?
This is a repost of Hvordan robotter kan skabe jobs – i stedet for at fjerne dem, originally published in Danish by Martin Welzelt (@martinwelzel) and Morten Brunø (@Morten_B_B), and submitted to the Europe in My Region 2016 blogging competition.
Robots can destroy jobs but they can also create them. However, creating jobs using robot technology does not happen – so to speak – automatically. In our evaluations of EU-funded automation projects (including Automation i Syd and SAFIR), we have identified some key barriers that need to be dealt with.
According to a study by Danish think tank Cevea, 92,000 manual jobs have disappeared because companies have invested in automation and digitization, and in the next five years a further 100,000 jobs are expected to disappear. However, measured by international standards, Danish production companies are already doing quite well compared to their foreign competitors when it comes to the use of automation solutions.
It is a myth that automation and robot technology is synonymous with ‘jobless growth’. Automation can become an important engine for job creation – also in small and medium-sized companies. Going through a number of evaluations of business development projects aimed to introduce automation to smaller manufacturing companies as a path to growth, it has become clear to us that three key challenges must be dealt with:
1. The need for skilled workers. While more automation leads to a reduced demand for unskilled workers, it also means increased demand for a number of other professions – such as industrial technicians, electricians, toolmakers and people from a number of engineering backgrounds. In order to create job growth through automation, it is vital that the education and employment system are designed to improve the skills and qualifications of workers so they become the professionals who will be in demand.
2. A focus on agile and user-friendly technology. Small Danish production companies must be able to efficiently produce small batches with great variation and this requires robots that can quickly adapt to new tasks. In addition, workers without extensive technical training must be able to operate the robots and this makes it necessary to develop more user-friendly interfaces for the robots of the future.
3. Access to venture capital. It is vital that companies are willing to invest in automation solutions and that they can raise the necessary capital for the investments. Therefore, it is essential that companies have access to expert advice on how to adapt automation solutions for the company’s production set-up. At the same time, there is a need for qualified advice to both companies and investors to help calculate a sustainable business model for investment and make this visible.
If they manage to deal with these barriers, many Danish companies will be able to keep their production in Denmark without losing international competitiveness and this will create secondary effects for suppliers and service industries. It will also mean that Danish companies can build up global leadership in the installation, servicing and maintenance of robots, which could be the beginning of the next Danish export adventure.