March 10, 2015      

It seems like every high school and college has assembled a team for various robotics competitions. A controversial study by the Oxford Martin School claims that 45% of U.S. jobs will be automated within the next two decades. What’s a nervous student or worker to do?

The key to staying employable in an ever-evolving economy is a combination of training, watching for developing industries and openings, and networking. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with our ongoing robotics coverage and our new jobs board.

Workers Wary of Robots, but the Boom Could Benefit Them

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) predicts that global spending on robots will grow from $27 billion this year to $67 billion by 2025, according to CNBC. This growth is the result of cheaper, smarter robots, which cost a tenth of what they did a decade ago and are capable of learning new tasks within half an hour.

Manufacturing and logistics are only the first sectors to benefit from increasing automation. Not only can robots make production lines and distribution more efficient, but they can also assist workers and even bring jobs back to the U.S.

CNBC notes that iRobot, known for the Roomba vacuum cleaner, was once the only robotics company within 150 miles. There are now more than 100 companies within 30 miles, representing more potential employers.

BCG analyst Hal Sirkin cited a 60% decline in labor costs, adding that we’ll “see a whole lot of electrical and mechanical engineers” to maintain a growing robot population. Automation will require people to program and run robots, and the shift could compensate for labor costs to the point that it would be cheaper to relocate operations that were once sent overseas.

A Deloitte report said that a third of U.K. jobs are at risk from automation, but not every industry observer is so pessimistic.

The push for driverless vehicles might displace some workers in the short term, said John Gibson, head of logistics at U.K.-based consultancy Crimson & Co. However, increased supply chain efficiency should aid productivity, reduce errors, and localize industry, he said in The Manufacturer.

It’s Never Too Early — or Too Late — to Learn

Although accelerating industrial automation is a hot trend, there is time enough for new job seekers and tech-savvy workers to avoid falling prey to the widening income inequality supposedly caused by it. If anything, increased automation has only stoked demand for skilled labor.

For example, the BotsIQ robot battles in western Pennsylvania and Ohio have helped high school students get practical experience in computer-aided design, budgeting, and time management, according to the Centre Daily Times.

This year, 1,000 students from 60 regional high schools will participate, and the winners will advance to a national competition near Cleveland in May.

“If you build a relationship with your school, it could be a pipeline to younger workers,” said Phyllis Miller, human resources manager at Hamill Manufacturing, which is supports BotsIQ along with Chevron and other companies.

Other programs also seek to pair student engineers with potential employers, such as NewBotic’s university-level training.

Another kind of pairing is getting workers accustomed to robotic co-workers. Even as the Baxter Research Robot from Rethink Robotics learns from human programmers, it is a tool for teaching people how to work alongside machines.

Baxter as a co-worker

People just entering the workforce or changing industries would do well to focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM or TEAMS), but experience with teamwork is also critical to career development. There is also some debate on whether the arts are as important as more straightforward promotion of STEM.

The University of Michigan provides a good example of an interdisciplinary STEM program around transportation and robotics. Businesses and job seekers should also pay attention to regional initiatives, such as MassRobotics in Massachusetts.

Hunt for a Job in the Robotics Age

If you’re an experienced worker, don’t let popular media portrayals or the profusion of would-be roboticists discourage you from seeking a lucrative career. There are millions of positions that need to be filled, according to Robotics Business Review‘s Careers in Robotics webcast. Our expert panel discussed job options and the employment outlook.

Still wondering about where to start? Membership in Robotics Business Review provides access to our articles, as well as Clusters, Societies, and Meet-ups.

In addition, our free “Spotlight on Careers in Robotics” analyzes four robotics programs and provides a detailed infographic on how automation will affect the U.S. workforce. As you return to school or work in September, look out for our “Careers in Robotics” research report.

Employers will find Robotics Jobs as the best route to a specialized pool of job seekers. Happy hunting!