While it might sound like a line from a science fiction movie, I am here to deliver a message to the employers and employees of Indiana: The robots are not coming to take away jobs.

Don’t misunderstand me. Automation is here. But rather than eliminate jobs, automation and smart factories promise to help us make and move products more efficiently and create more rewarding and better-paying career opportunities.  

The reality is that today there are close to 100,000 open positions in advanced manufacturing and logistics in Indiana alone and that number will continue to climb as record numbers of Baby Boomers retire. We need people to fill those jobs today and be prepared to succeed in careers that evolve as new technologies are introduced.

The good news is that Indiana’s advanced manufacturing and logistics sector is a national leader. We have a greater concentration of manufacturing jobs than any other state, and we are positioned to continue as the nation’s logistics leader. Those strengths are a big reason why Indiana has recovered jobs lost to COVID-19 faster than the national average.

But we can’t let good news obscure our challenges. As a recent Brookings Institution study concluded, if Indiana is going to remain strong, we need to “shoot for enhancement, not just recovery.”

What does that mean? For one thing, it means reimagining workforce education, preparing workers not for specific jobs but for a high-tech workplace where adaptability is key. After all, research suggests that one out of 10 of the jobs that industries will be hiring for in 2030 do not even exist today.

It also means investing in smart factories – known as Industry 4.0 – marked by the integration of advanced technologies, automation and data to increase competitiveness, productivity and profitability. According to Brookings, Indiana, once a national productivity leader, has seen key industries such as agricultural chemicals, adhesives and medical equipment fall behind national peers in productivity. Why? Brookings suggests it’s because Indiana lags in terms of investment in technology, ranking 37th among states for per-employee tech spending. Our own research published in 2020 confirms this.

Finally, it means no longer fearing the robot. For years, we’ve heard concerns about automation displacing workers, but a recent study of French manufacturing firms reported by Brookings suggests the opposite is true: Companies that added robots added jobs, and firms that didn’t increase automation lost jobs.

Indiana firms are investing in automation, some at a greater pace than others. But we are seeing an uptick as companies take advantage of the Manufacturing Readiness Grants administered by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and Conexus Indiana, allowing companies to invest in and implement new technologies. Those companies are already seeing results on and beyond the balance sheet. At PWR North America, for example, they report that employee morale is up because workers see the investment in technology as a commitment to growth.

Advanced manufacturing and logistics have been essential to Indiana’s economic health, and those industries will continue to power us into the future if we commit to investing in and preparing our workforce for the high-tech landscape.

At Conexus, we’re supporting this effort with workforce-development programs. For example, Catapult Indiana not only helps people get jobs in today’s advanced manufacturing and logistics industries, but also prepares them to evolve and grow with the changing workplace, not just keeping their jobs when their jobs change but progressing through careers with higher wages and greater security.

But Conexus can’t do this alone, and it will take more than employers and state agencies to ensure Indiana’s economic strength and stability. We all must support companies that invest in automation, and we must encourage the next generation of workers to join a sector where they can be a part of building something new and exciting. And, last but not least, we must stop fearing robots. They free up the humans to do human work.

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