Frankfurt (GER), May 2020 - Companies around the world are increasing their use of industrial robots: Within five years, the global operational stock rose by about 65 percent to 2.4 million units (2013-2018). For the same period of time, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a positive impact on the job market: Employment in the automotive industry - the largest adopter of robots - increased by 22%, from 824,400 to 1,005,000 jobs (2013-2018).
However, these facts contradict conclusions recently published by MIT’s news office on economist Daron Acemoglu’s research. Based on data between 1990 and 2007, he deduces an overall negative effect of robots on employment in blue-collar working communities in the US. Making the situation more complicated is the fact that results stemming from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) indicate that recent experience in the US, Europe, and Asia actually portend an opposite trend: Robot adoption will likely be a critical determinant of productivity growth for the post-COVID-19 economy. "The impact of automation on employment is not in any respect different from previous waves of technology-driven change," says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics. "Productivity increases and competitive advantages of automation don’t replace jobs - they will automate tasks, augment jobs, and create new ones." Research by the OECD shows that companies that employ technology effectively are ten times more productive than those that do not. To equip the workforce with the soft skills and technical knowledge required in the post-COVID-19 economy, a tight collaboration among industry, government, and educational institutions is needed. Governmental policy incentives should encourage corporate investment in training and support funding of education. Companies around the globe are reassessing their global supply-chain business models in reaction to the lessons learned from coronavirus. This will likely accelerate the introduction of robots, leading to a renaissance of industrial production in some regions - and bringing back jobs. After the crisis, IFR expects a considerable boost for robotics and automation, even if the industry cannot currently decouple itself from the economic downturn.