Home » Machine Economy » Study – Robots are not taking jobs

Study – Robots are not taking jobs

Summary – Analysis conclusively shows over 1.25 million new jobs created during the last 6 years at companies making extensive use of robots. The detailed Robotenomics research report outlines full interviews and analysis of the key findings.

Ever since “the great recession” began in the latter part of 2008 it has been widely speculated that the installation of hundreds of thousands of factory robots has hindered job recovery; that robots are taking jobs and are in part responsible for high unemployment. These speculations further assert that more jobs will be lost as robots are able to take on an increasing number of tasks.

Our research of manufacturing corporations that are using industrial robots indicates that whilst companies are adding more and more robots to their factory floors, they are also adding more jobs to their payroll.

Based on legal corporate regulatory filings, such as annual financial reports, we find that 62 of the world’s largest manufacturing corporations who are heavy users of industrial robots, in fact users of hundreds of thousands of industrial robots, are adding more jobs and employing more people – over 1 million more – than they did before the onset of the great recession. In-depth interviews with executives and managers of these companies provide further insight into the manufacturing process and the relationship between human and robot workers, as well as the new career opportunities and skills needed in a future robot economy.

Key findings: Jobs: Between the end of 2009 and the end of 2014, sixty-two corporations with collectively the largest (and growing) installed base of robots added an additional 1.25 million new jobs to their payroll – an overall increase of more than 20% people employed.

During our research we analyzed legal corporate filings of companies using industrial robots for a period of six years (end of 2009 to end of 2014) to ascertain number of employees and where possible robots used. This analysis included quarterly (if available), half year, and annual corporate filings of 109 corporations that have a large installed base (and growing number) of industrial robots, the period covered was the start of 2009 to the end of 2014. We also analyzed relevant legal press releases from those entities.

We also we spoke to and conducted email correspondence with more than 90 senior executives, managers and engineers within companies that have a large installed base of robots, and reviewed reports from industry associations together with filings, press releases and corporate brochures and case studies from stock-listed robotic manufacturers. In total this analysis included approximately 1,500 legal compliance documents. We then compiled a database of employee headcount for each year analyzed and compared the annual growth or decline of number of employees per company.

Autopsy

During the last few years the popular press has delivered a flurry of articles stating that these advances in robotics is resulting in robots taking jobs. Much of the news is on the back of high profile acquisitions and investments, such as Amazon’s acquisition of Kiva robotics for $775 million, Google’s acquisition of 8 robot companies for approximately $100 million combined, followed by the acquisition of Artificial Intelligence developer DeepMind for approximately $500 million, Foxconn’s statement that it would replace 1 million people with robots (a case of fuzzy logic), IBM’s $1 billion investment in Watson, and announcements by Facebook, Yahoo, Baidu and Microsoft of additional investments in Artificial Intelligent assistants and related developments.

Further investments by major corporations in autonomous (self­-driving) cars and trucks, drones taking photographs at sports events and spraying crops. New movie releases (Her, Transcendence, Chappie, ExMachina and others in the science fiction genre) have also stoked the fire.

Robots sell papers and get eyeballs, of course whilst there is still also a novelty factor, and indeed fear of the unknown surrounding robots; nevertheless there are tremendous advances in robotic capabilities which could, it is fair to say, lead to robots doing many more types of jobs, in the future.

Collectively these developments are adding to the chorus of media claims and proclamations from leading economists and researchers, that robots are stealing jobs.

For example a December 2013 study from the James Martin 21st Century School at Oxford University estimated that approximately 47 per cent of U.S. employment was at high risk of being replaced by computerization over the next couple of decades (The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization? Frey and Osborne 2013), note the heavy media attention this paper received indicates jobs being replaced by robots in place of the authors’ position of “computerization.”

Book’s such as The Second Machine Age by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, Martin Fords The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future and Our Final Invention by documentary filmmaker, James Barrat, have also received a great deal of media attention ­ much of it focused on the negative aspect of technology (and especially robots) displacing jobs, despite one of the central messages of The Second Machine Age offering hope in a machine economy.

The book authors write:

The transformations brought about by digital technology will be profoundly beneficial ones. We’re heading into an era that won’t just be different; it will be better.

The high level of mixed reports and media, of claims that robots are taking jobs, led famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Labor Markets economist

David H. Autor to recently state:

Journalists and expert commentators overstate the extent of machine substitution for human labor and ignore the strong complementarities. The challenges to substituting machines for workers in tasks requiring adaptability, common sense, and creativity remain immense.

Disagreements about the impact of robotics on employment is common, even among so called “experts.” (Pew Research 2014).

We need numbers, not adjectives.

Of course this is not the first time we have heard the claim that automation and machines are eradicating jobs. The prediction that technological developments will lead to massive unemployment has been made since the turn of the 19th century (E.J. Hobsbawm 1952), and at least so far, the prediction has proven false.

The specific claim that “mechanical robots” will lead to mass unemployment has been ongoing since the early robots were installed in auto manufacturers at least fifty years ago leading to books such as Where have all the robots gone? Worker dissatisfaction in the 70s by Harold L. Sheppard and Neal Q. Herrick and comments such as the opening paragraph of a 1982 paper: Industrial robot technology and productivity improvement by James S. Albus which reads:

Many people today believe that the robot revolution is well under way, that factories are full of armies of highly intelligent robots, and that human workers are being displaced in droves. The facts are quite different.

Factories “full of armies of highly intelligent robots” were not case then. Nor are “human workers being Displaced (by robots) in droves.”’

US Manufacturing alone added 646,000 net new jobs over four years to end of 2013, according to White House figures.

As of June 2014 an additional 302,000 Manufacturing jobs in the US were unfulfilled according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Audi’s Annual Report of 2014 states:

The point of (Industrial robots) is not a factory devoid of people, but rather to provide the employees optimal support as they go about their work. In the future, robots will do the jobs that people don’t want to do because they are strenuous, monotonous or unergonomic, such as installation work in the vehicle interior or overhead work. Employees would then perform more challenging tasks. Machine monitoring, programming, and plant repair and maintenance are already becoming increasingly significant fields of activity at factories today.

Jobs created by companies that use robots

Whilst robots have found their way onto the factory floor, the numbers of these robots considerably outnumber sales of service robots, such as military or defense robots (e.g. unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), bomb detection robots), agricultural milking robots, automated guided vehicles used in logistics and warehouses and medical robots for assisted surgery.

Due to the relatively small number of service robots in everyday use it is hard to quantify any significant impact, positive or negative on the workplace. However, it is worth noting that Amazon, one of the largest users of service robots after their acquisition of Kiva systems in 2012, have increased their global headcount by 89,000 in the 3 years to the end of 2013. At the end of 2013 the company employed over 117,000 people, more than four times the 28,300 employees it reported on June 30th 2010. Many of these additional jobs have been in Amazon’s fulfilment centers, the very area where they have employed Kiva’s robotic systems. Amazon Vice President Mike Roth spoke of his belief that robots complement human labor:

The robots do not give jobs away. They make them more efficient… I see no way robotics are ever going to replace humans.

With respect to robots in the manufacturing sector (industrial robots), according to a recent PwC survey of US manufacturers, over one third of manufacturers said that the biggest impact robots will have on the manufacturing workforce in the next three years is that they will lead to:

New job opportunities to engineer advanced robots and robotic operating systems.

In the same PwC survey about one in four felt the biggest impact would be “more demand for talent to manage the robotic workplace.”

Our research indicates, despite the headlines, companies that have installed industrial robots are actually increasingly employing more people whilst at the same time adding more robots. Additionally econometric evidence suggests an important role for robots AND people in accounting for productivity growth. 

More importantly our research shows that it is NOT only young disruptive companies that are creating jobs and utilizing advanced robotics, as is the case with Amazon, Inc. and Tesla Motors, but also older more established companies like Chrysler, Daimler, Philips Electronics and more.

We have identified: over 1.25 million new jobs have been added by companies that make extensive use of industrial robots.  

It is noteworthy to also consider jobs created within the local communities of those manufacturers. In his book The New Geography of Jobs published in 2012, Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, estimated the employment multiplier of different sorts of work. A new manufacturing job, he suggested, typically creates 1.6 new jobs in the local service economy. In innovative industries, one new position might yield four to five new service sector jobs within a metropolitan area.

In addition the robotics manufacturing sector and associated industries are also adding new jobs at companies such as ABB Robotics, Kuka, Fanuc, Hitachi, Bosch and others. Similarly jobs are being created at both small and large Drone manufacturers as new investments and demand continues to stir growth.

The auto manufacturers

The biggest surprise, given the volumes of articles claiming robots have taken jobs in the motor sector, is seven auto manufacturers who have increased their number of employees by more than 132,000 people between 2009 and the end of 2014 whilst also adding tens of thousands of new robots to their factory floors.

Robotenomics auto summary jobs

Luxury car manufacturers Audi, BMW Group and Daimler (manufactures of Mercedes Benz) have seen significant increases in the total number of employees between 2009 and the end of 2014, despite the global recession and claims installations of robots were causing companies to cut back on the number of people employed.

The three luxury auto manufacturers were already heavy users of industrial robots and in the last four years have added at least an additional 10,800 industrial robots to their production lines. According to Richard Morris, vice president of assembly at the BMW Spartanburg plant:

Ideas come from people, and a robot is never going to replace that.

The person who does the robot programming and services the robots will make a substantial contribution to future car productivity. Even with the new slower, more flexible robots being introduced into production, BMW’s customized and agile production entails serious challenges for technology requiring the skills and dexterity of people. For example, the BMW 7 Series, alone, has ten to the power of seventeen possible variations.

As robots handle 95% of painting and welding within BMW factories, a production employee at one of BMW’s plants is likely to look far more like a scientist. BMW have developed augmented reality glasses for assemblers and mechanics that display online manuals and instructions explaining exactly how parts should fit together, which has led to higher levels of inspection and quality control. In addition to augmented reality glasses, Christian Steiger who is responsible for mechatronics (or Industrial Robots) in the BMW Group Munich plant said:

BMW factory technicians use the most up-to-date systems and processes like ultrasound, camera and laser technology for the purposes of quality assurance such as measuring the thickness of a spot-weld applied by one of the thousands of robots, but classic testing procedures using hammer and chisel are still used too.

The Porsche Macan factory in Leipzig, Germany is one of the most advanced auto manufacturing facilities in the world and heavily automated with industrial robots. However Porsche, who have seen a huge jump in the number of people employed over the last 6 years, emphasizes the importance of human workers in such an automated facility:

A total of 387 robots turn the body shop into an impressive sight. However, despite the high degree of automation, human workers are essential here, in particular for quality controls, systems operation and several manual tasks. In the body shop we rely on harmonic interaction between expert human labor and state­of­the­art technology.

Another car manufacturer Toyota has a mission of “creating a company that would never have to dismiss employees.” Toyota not only uses thousands of robots at its production plants, but also makes its own robots.

Toyota wants to provide a pleasant workplace for its workers and one that helps them feel good about their work. To create a pleasant environment for the workers, we use machines and robots for work that is dirty or requires a lot of strength. Also, since machines and robots can accurately repeat the tasks they are given on time, they are ideal for repetitive, precise tasks. This is why we use many machines and robots in the stamping, welding, and painting processes.

Tasks that require complex judgments, such as assembly and inspections, and those that require intuition and special expertise, are performed mainly by humans. We also need workers to operate the machines and robots. In this way, human workers and machines (robots) each do what they do best, working together to make high­quality cars.

Despite being a significant producer and user of robots, Toyota is not of the opinion that it will ever have a totally automated factory, staffed only by robots:

“We don’t think machines and robots will ever be able to make cars by themselves. While we use many machines and robots in our factories, there are many tasks that only human workers can perform. It is only through the cooperation of workers and machines that we are able to make cars of such high quality. Toyota doesn’t believe it would be possible to have a fully automated car factory that does not have any human workers.”

The number of jobs directly and indirectly created by Toyota in the US alone is considerable. When factoring in the people selling and servicing new Toyota vehicles the total US jobs supported annually by Toyota in 2010 was 365,000 with annual compensation of approximately US$ 21.4 billion.

Honda is another car manufacturer that added jobs to its payroll between 2009 and 2014. It is also at the forefront of producing robots that are scheduled to enter every day use in the form of exoskeleton’s to aid people with disabilities to walk again and robots for rescue work after disasters. Perhaps the best known member of Honda’s ‘robot family’ is ASIMO, the ‘humanoid’ robot, which the company imagines will “be useful for people and to help enrich people’s daily lives.”

Honda has invested heavily in new facilities and automation. At their state­of­the art Yorii plant, which they opened in 2013, just north of Tokyo which uses production lines characterized by the coexistence of work robots with human workers, Honda has introduced a variety of innovative technologies in the pursuit of automation and efficient manufacturing. High­speed welding robots make the car body frames, robots install instrument panels, seats and tires and mount suspension systems. Despite the heavy investments in automation and robotics Honda has also added thousands of new jobs to its headcount.

The detailed Robotenomics research report outlines full interviews and analysis of the key findings and the analysis conclusively shows over 1.25 million new jobs created, during the last 6 years, at companies making extensive use of robots. For now this may help to put to rest some of the fear-mongering of the present day.

In fact Robotics may just be a terrific job to pursue.

In his book The Coming Jobs War, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton said that one of the most important discoveries the international polling firm has ever made is that what people want – ahead of love, money, food, shelter, safety, peace, and even freedom – is to have a good job. “This changes everything for world leaders,” he wrote. “Everything they do – from waging war to building societies – will need to be in the context of the need for a good job.”

Where will the new good jobs be? Who will get them? What should you be doing today to ensure that you have jobs in the future?

The Nobel Prize commission awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in Economics to Professor Robert Solow in part for his work, which indicates that technological development will be the motor for economic growth in the long run. In Solow’s model, if continuous technological progress can be assumed, growth in real incomes will be exclusively determined by technological progress.

Business is fraught with production and process inefficiency, our era is one of turbulent technological and economic change, it seems clear that the productive potential of robotics have only begun to be realized and the robotics sector is one of employment growth.

A United States Department of Labor study found that 65% of children currently in primary school will grow up to work in jobs that do not exist today. Robotics is a growing field, and the proliferation of robots into our everyday lives is likely to be one of the key transformations in the workplace of the 21st century.

Clyde Williams wrote as far back as 1953 that:

The machine is, in fact, a moronic robot able to perform routine operations with high speed, excellent precision, and unwavering patience.

Demis Hassabis of Google’s DeepMind indicates that Computers are nowhere near being able to ape human behavior or take over human thinking.

In 1962 Vannevar Bush wrote of Automations Awkward Age about the same time robots were entering the factory. He said then “on an over-all basis, automation creates jobs.” It is exactly the same today.

Isn’t it time we got on with the real work of ensuring a more equal distribution of equality and resources instead of making claims of robots taking jobs that clearly do not stack up.

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10 Comments

  1. SeanB says:

    This study seems to only show that “companies that use robots are also adding workers”. That’s not enough to address the question of technological unemployment:
    1) The problem is technological unemployment in the future, not in the past. Past employment shifts have put us where we are now, which is actually not too bad compared to what fully capable human-replacement robots could do.
    2) During implementation, adding robots will increase employment, because you will need both the original workers and the robot installers. Only when the robots are in place and dependable can you lay off the workers.
    3) One firm can add robots and 1000 workers in order to shut down a competitor with 5000 workers. Thus the study does not address the economy as a whole.

  2. […] Summary – Analysis conclusively shows over 1.25 million new jobs created during the last 6 years at companies making extensive use of robots. The detailed Robotenomics research report outlines full interviews and analysis of the key findings. Ever since “the great recession” began in the latter part of 2008 it has been widely speculated that the…  […]

  3. Hi, good post.
    What would be also interesting to be “more complete” is to know, for instance in the car industry”, how much the car production augmented in the same period and to compare those numbers with the increase of jobs…
    If you take Honda, in the US it sold 1,284,261 car in 2008 and 1,540,872 in 2014 so a 20% increase…
    (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda)

  4. While I agree the picture is complex it does seem that the addition of automation is enabling a far higher increase in unit production than the increase in the labour force. Your figures show an 11.5% increase in jobs across all the manufacturers listed over the period from 2009 to 2014. According to Statista.com (http://www.statista.com/statistics/262747/worldwide-automobile-production-since-2000/) car production across the entire industry increased by 41% during that time so it’s likely that output in your selected companies was outstripping jobs growth by four to one. Automation is clearly one major factor in that differential and it is safe to say that the leverage from automation will improve over time, perhaps to the point that no new jobs are created for every increase in output?

    • Colin Lewis says:

      Very astute thoughts James – I also looked closely and collected data on productivity in the annual reports and other sources and also on wages. Productivity did indeed grow considerably and outstripped jobs growth in line with the numbers you suggest, especially in the auto sector. The data collected also shows that in the majority of companies wages stagnated. It is certainly a valid question you raise and one that I’m monitoring with updated reviews. Of course the robot manufacturers are keen to promote the productivity gains.

      Further factors to consider – at Nissan in Sunderland UK, they manufacture 600,000 cars per year (worldwide there are 60 million cars produced) – Nissan UK has 830 robots in service and employs 6,000 people. Nissan India produces 600,000 cars, employs 14,000 people and uses 270 robots!… India wages are very low in comparison to the cost of installing robots.

      I’ll post the productivity figures in January.

  5. […] l’excellent blog Robotenomics – Tracking The Evolution of Robots, certaines données réelles méritent notre attention car elles contredisent amplement la […]

  6. […] l’excellent blog Robotenomics – Tracking The Evolution of Robots, certaines données réelles méritent notre attention car elles contredisent amplement la […]

  7. […] and robotics blogger Colin W. Lewis has another view. On his Robotenomics blog, Lewis claims that since 2008, 62 of the world’s largest manufacturing companies that […]

  8. […] research of companies using robots has also categorically shown, through factual evidence, that those companies have created significantly more jobs than have been lost due to technological […]

  9. […] todos los públicos: que no, que “los robots” no están destruyendo trabajo. También este artículo sobre las empresas que han empezado a implantar robots pone en evidencia que, tampoco, […]

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