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How Can Automation Help Alleviate Labor Shortages?

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How Can Automation Help Alleviate Labor Shortages?

Labor shortages are often discussed in fields such as logistics and trucking, but a growing number of industries have more job openings than people to fill them. Manufacturing, education, health services and retail are many industries struggling to bring in new hires and retain existing employees.

Automation and robotics may have a negative reputation for stealing people’s jobs, but in almost every case, it supplements floundering workforces. Here’s how it can help alleviate labor
shortages in various industries and help bolster the economy.

Labor Shortage Statistics

Looking at any industry from the outside, it might seem like everything is working as it’s meant to. However, behind the scenes, the problem becomes glaringly apparent. Foodservice and hospitality-related businesses experienced a 6.6% quit rate in September 2021. Durable goods manufacturing is seeing even worse resignation levels. Companies are struggling to hire enough workers to fill vacant positions and stay ahead of the competition.

Industries worldwide have lost millions of workers due to COVID-19 and the Great Resignation that followed. Many of those who left the workforce during the pandemic decided that taking early retirement was a better option than returning to work once things returned to normal. The best choice for employers would be to make the necessary changes to bring in new workers and retain those already employed. However, automation may be able to help fill in some of the gaps.

Freeing up Skilled Workers for Critical Tasks

Most industries have many mundane or repetitive tasks that are necessary to complete the job. They are all necessary, but thanks to automation, they do not need to take up the time or skills of an employee better suited to more complex or critical work. It can also be a valuable tool for helping people get ahead, allowing them to expand their skills and build a career that they will genuinely enjoy.

Relegating these mundane or repetitive tasks to robotics or automation services can also help reduce the number of repetitive stress injuries in the workplace. Poor posture, repeated motions, bad lifting techniques and other repetitive movements can cause injuries which, in turn, can lead to missed work and workers’ compensation claims. Widespread use of automation and material handling solutions could help reduce those numbers dramatically.

Capturing and Using Data Efficiently

The human race generates enormous amounts of data. In 2020, that amounted to 1.7 megabytes a second for each person or 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. Much of this information languishes in digital limbo in its raw form. By using automation specifically, machine learning and artificial intelligence — companies can take these sheaves of raw data and turn them into actionable points that can improve workplace efficiency. It can also offset some of the problems caused by labor shortages. An example of a tool that can easily sort and collect data with just one click is using Sheets Genie, a Google Sheets add-on.

In the past, sorting through these databases required human analysts. Today, all it takes is a skilled programmer to create a machine learning algorithm that can sort through raw data while
eliminating human error and turn it into actionable insights that companies can use to improve their business. It’s not a perfect solution — at least not yet. There are still some limitations to the
technology that could potentially hold companies back. Still, as it continues to progress and evolve, it will likely become an invaluable tool to help offset the lack of new employees.

Fewer Injuries and Less Downtime

Many industries utilize production methods that, while necessary, can be hazardous to human life. Safety precautions can help keep employees safe, but they are not accident-proof, no matter how hard they try. More than 155,500 manufacturing workers and 17,000 warehouses workers missed time in 2018 due to a workplace injury. In 2017, those injuries cost businesses upwards of $161 billion.

Automation can help reduce workplace injuries and associated downtime by taking over many hazardous jobs. Even skilled positions that can’t be automated can be made safer through robotics that distance the worker from the action. It does require some new training and significant investment initially, but it can help reduce some of the growing costs associated with workplace injuries. Many tasks, such as cleaning tank interiors in a low-oxygen environment, would be better served by automation than by a human in protective gear.

Bringing in More Young Employees

The Great Resignation and the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t the only things causing these massive labor shortages. Millions of people retired in the United States during the pandemic, most of them choosing to permanently leave the workforce rather than taking an extended pandemic-related sabbatical. There aren’t enough new workers to replace them, especially not among the younger generation.

One of the most significant benefits of bringing in automation is that it requires new technology and teaches employees how to utilize it. This is the perfect environment for workers from younger generations who have grown up in a world steeped in technology. Young millennials and members of Gen Z often avoid the traditionally blue-collar careers because they are some of the slowest to adopt new technologies. Bringing in automation is the perfect way to entice these new workers into an industry that might otherwise be lacking tech.

Utilizing Automation to Alleviate Labor Shortages

There is no simple solution to overcome these labor shortages. So many people have left the workforce throughout the pandemic for various reasons that it will take some time to recoup those losses. Companies have the option to make all the necessary changes to overcome these labor shortages without spending too much time and money trying to bring in new workers.

Adopting automation is just one piece of the puzzle for adopting new technologies as tools to overcome labor shortages. Things like data management and machine learning algorithms can help turn existing databases into actionable insights that can make all the difference. Business owners need to take the time to analyze their current labor statistics and demographics to see where problems lie and where new technologies like automation can help fill in the gaps.