Robot adoption key factor in productivity growth post-Covid-19

Posted on 14 May 2020 by Jonny Williamson

The adoption of industrial robots will likely be a critical determinant of productivity growth for the post-COVID-19 economy, according to the latest insights from the International Federation of Robotics.

Companies around the world are increasing their use of industrial robots. Within five years, the global operational stock rose by about 65% to 2.4 million units (2013-2018).

For the same period of time, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a positive impact on the job market, with employment in the automotive industry – the largest adopter of robots – increasing by 22% from 824,400 to 1,005,000 jobs.

These figures would appear to contradict the conclusions recently published by MIT´s news office on economist Daron Acemoglu’s research.

Based on data between 1990 to 2007, Acemoglu deduces an overall negative effect of robots on employment in blue-collar working communities in the US.

Yet, recent experience in the US, Europe and Asia proves the opposite, according to IFR, who described the conclusions by MIT’s news office as “wrong”.

Milton Guerry, IFR president, commented: “The impact of automation on employment is not in any respect different from previous waves of technology-driven change. 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 10- times more productive than those that do not.

However, to equip the workforce with the soft skills and technical knowledge required in the post-Covid-19 economy, IFR recommends tight collaboration between industry, government and educational institutions.

Governmental policy incentives should also encourage corporate investment in training and support funding of education, it noted.

Renaissance of industrial production 

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, according to IFR, 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.