Automation Augmentation Enhances Workers’ Roles in Factories

Melissa Gilliam

Melissa Gilliam Intern, AAM

Automation often takes the blame for lost manufacturing jobs when automation might be a key component in revitalizing manufacturing! We know years of trade imbalances and competition with China have contributed to the large-scale job loss of manufacturing in addition to a 2018 study conducted by W.E. Upjohn Institute Vice President and Director of Research Susan N. Houseman.

Debunking the Myth “Automation Causes Job Unemployment”

Houseman's research reveals how manufacturing has suffered when a sub-sector of manufacturing, the computer industry, was factored out of the research… though not due to automation as widely believed.

The strength of real manufacturing output is nearly dominated by computer and electronic products. The study found manufacturing’s real GDP growth was 63 percent of the average private sector from 2000-2016. When the numbers from the computer industry was dropped from the data, manufacturing’s real GDP growth was only 12 percent of the average private sector, which reveals obvious disparities in manufacturing industries and suggests automation is not the cause of manufacturing job loss.

Houseman encourages economists to not dismiss trade and the role it has had in manufacturing jobs, productivity and investment. “Economists and politicians who deny the effects of globalization on U.S. manufacturing are standing in the way of a much-needed, better informed debate over trade policies,” she writes.

How Can Automation Help?

In 2017, the highest rate of industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees were all found in countries known for their robust, high value-added manufacturing sectors such as South Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy- and Sweden. The United States comes in at seventh on this list.

Automation should be designed to work with workers to enhance manufacturing, not dominate manufacturing. The integration of technology and manufacturing is good for both employees and employers. Technology is not a direct substitute for labor.

During a panel discussion hosted by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) on Nov. 15, Oren Cass, senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute stated, “Technology should be workers’ best friend. Technology, automation is the mechanism by which we make every worker more productive. We increase prosperity. We allow wages to rise over time. … Safety breakthroughs, making it easier, making sure the swinging robotic arm wasn’t going to knock anybody over, became the key to deploying it.”

A prime example of technology working with workers is Ford's "exoskeleton." This wearable technology possesses various functions but in relation to manufacturing can assist workers with strength, giving them the ability to carry heavy objects with ease. This is one of many robots that would help workers work more efficiently.

ITIF President Robert Atkinson agrees automation creates opportunities for workers to earn higher wages or increased benefits by learning a higher skill set. This, in turn, gives businesses a better chance to compete with other industries and provide further opportunities for increased worker wages and benefits.

A worker can be retrained to maintain the operation of technology in a scenario were a task performed by a robot, or another form of automation, is more effective than a person. For example, a machine can label products at a faster rate than a person, but what happens the machine becomes jammed or malfunctions? This is where workers are essential.

Vice President of Governance Studies, Director of Center for Technology Innovation, and Douglas Dillon Chairholder Darrell West of The Brookings Institution observed that many restaurant owners do not want to lose workers.

“Owners want to reposition [workers], retrain them and redeploy them. For example, there are robots that are going to flip the hamburgers, but you can redeploy those individuals for other tasks within that restaurant,” said West.  

Emphasizing that “owners do not want to lose workers” is a critical to successfully implementing automation in manufacturing.

Cass also noted, “If we force the employers in capital to work with the workers that we have and say your path to making this work is to make your technology work with the workers, that’s ultimately going to be to everybody’s benefit.”

Many factors can play a role in workforce development in preparation for automation, but employers must also consider how automation will transform with their business models. Different regions and sub-sectors have different needs, which will require communication and partnerships between workers and employers to adjust for those differences.

In all, the integration of automation and manufacturing benefits both employees and employers with a collaborative human-machine model. Technological advances make it easier for workers to carry out their jobs while employers benefit from increased productivity. This will ultimately allow for manufacturers to better compete with other industries and invest in the value of their workers.

Automation can augment the workforce when intelligently integrated into the great industry of manufacturing. 

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Reposted from AAM

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Alliance for American Manufacturing

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work