Robotics Training Programs Critical to Retention and Attraction of Manufacturing Jobs in 2020

The development of robotics training programs will become a central strategy for the retention and attraction of manufacturing jobs in 2020.  Robotics is the new plastics.  The famous line in the 1960’s movie Mrs. Robinson when the young, directionless college graduate gets career advice that plastics is the way to go can now be communicated that robotics is the way to go.  Regions and states hoping to retain manufacturing jobs will need to create substantial programs to train their workforce in the use of robotics in 2020.

By 2020, there will be more than 50 B connected devices in use around the world, all converging to create huge new markets according to a recent Accenture report. In the next several years, revenues are expected to reach many billions of dollars in each sector including the industrial internet, connected home solutions, connected car services and connected health.  Companies around the world are increasing their use of robots. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation estimates global average for industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers grew from 66 in 2015 to 85 in 2017, and the United States ranked seventh with 200 industrial robots per 10,000 workers. The same study identified nations from Japan to South Korea to China are adopting public policies and devoting resources and tax credits to companies who are modernizing and utilizing technology to make their business more efficient. As an example, in the Chinese Robotics Industry Development Plan (2016–2020), part of its Made in China 2025 initiative promotes domestic robot production and sets a goal of expanding robot use by such companies tenfold by 2025.  The Chinese Guangdong province will supposedly invest 943 B yuan (approximately $135 B) to help firms carry out “machine substitution.” While economists continue to debate the impact on employment for connected devices, automation and robotics, no one can question whether these devices will make companies more efficient. 

The question is whether these manufacturing companies remain or locate in the United States or continue the manufacturing shift to Asia and Mexico in 2020.  With the expected easing of trade tensions, regions and states must compete by developing a skilled workforce ready to use robotics in the manufacturing workplace. Regions, states and their companies building expertise in robotics innovation and workforce development training to use and develop robots in a range of industries will be better prepared for the future work and have the ability to retain and attract companies in a range of industries.  McKinsey estimates 686,000 computer software, programming and support jobs will be created by 2030 from AI and automation. MarketWatch determined there will be a $98 B value for the global robotics industry by 2024 driven by future expansions into manufacturing, logistics, health care and service industries. Industrial robots have become smarter, faster, and more affordable, and have developed advanced capabilities, such as sensing, dexterity, memory, and trainability. PwC estimates by 2020, the global industrial robot market is expected to reach $41 B, and advanced industrial robotics have been chiefly pioneered and deployed by the automotive industry, particularly Japanese carmakers such as Toyota, followed closely in their wake by European and North American counterparts.  Again PwC estimates, 69 % of all industrial robot orders in North America were made by automotive OEMs but, by 2014, that figure had eroded to 56 %, offset by increasing shares by other industries including food and beverage, consumer goods, life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomedical, and metals industries.  The Robotics Industries Association says there are currently 230,000 robots now in use in U.S. factories.

Regions and states in 2020 will need to focus on developing robotics training centers to proactively train incumbent and new manufacturing workers.  Alabama offers a model worthy of replicating.  The $73M Alabama Robotics Technology Park is a collaboration between the state of Alabama, Alabama Community College System, AIDT, and robotics industry leaders across the nation. The Alabama Robotics Technology Park consists of a training facility to prepare workers to operate robots for a range of industries, provide technical assistance to companies looking to understand how to integrate automation and robotics into the workplace, and a robotics research and development center focused on future applications.  The Alabama Robotics Technology Park is a venue for enhancing and stabilizing Alabama’s industries in automation and safety training that promotes workforce development and growth in the state by providing technical assistance for manufacturers who have automated processes.  Their training gives trainees “hands-on” experience with state-of-the-art automation equipment.  Benefits from the Alabama Robotics Technology Park include:

  • Free workforce training to Alabama industries and their affiliates;
  • A partnership model where the major automation equipment vendors that are used by Alabama industries are partners with the Alabama Robotics Technology Park;
  • An advanced automation line for the purpose of advance training in networking the various devices and automated equipment into one coordinated manufacturing line;
  • Customized industry-specific training in Robotic Systems, Vision Systems Customized Training (Vendor & Company Specific); Advance Manufacturing Line (7-Robots, 3-PLCs, 4-Visions); Material Handling; Welding; and Paint/Dispense.

Faculty from the Alabama universities are engaged in research and development of robot/automation technologies and have established a location to conduct these activities. Two and Four-year co-op students are encouraged to be utilized, as training, in this facility, as well as the employees and staff of the tenant entity. 

2020 should be the year where Alabama has other states compete in preparing their workforce to use robotics in the workplace.