Industrial Robotics creates employment

Employment directly due to the use of industrial robots

The robot industry itself generates millions of jobs worldwide, to which can be added the support staff and operators, another similar number of people. As already mentioned, there are three other types of application where robotics create or preserve jobs. These are jobs which can only be done by robots.

The use of industrial robots will become indispensable in the following years: (i) Where the product cannot be made to satisfactory precision, consistency and cost, without Robotics, (ii) Where the conditions under which the current work is done are unsatisfactory [may be illegal in the developed countries], but where a robot will operate, (iii) Where [particularly] a developed country manufacturing unit with high labour costs is threatened by a unit in a low labour cost area.

The following table shows the number of jobs which have been created thanks to robotics in the previous years or which sill be created in the forthcoming years

Employment indirectly due to the use of industrial robots

Where automation displaces people in manufacturing it almost always increases output [see table opposite]. In some cases it allows such an increase in production and related decrease in unit price, that it creates a whole new market and generates the need for downstream jobs to get the product to the consumer. It releases employees for other, often new jobs outside manufacturing. Historically, this has always been the case.

A much larger source of employment, at least partly due to robotics, is the newly created downstream activity necessary to support manufacturing which can only be done by robots. We have been conservative in what we have chosen to include here. Some of the people we have spoken to, for example, would have liked us to have included large parts of the automotive sector sales and distribution employment. Our conclusion was that much of this infrastructure was in place before robots were widely used, and so not resulting from the use of robots. The best example is the communication and leisure equipment business, from distribution to retailing. In the USA, this part of retailing is of the order of 1 million. In world terms this accounts for 3 to 5 million of jobs which would not exist if automation and robotics had not been developed to allow production of millions of electronic products, from Phones to Playstations to Tablets.

The following table analyzes the number of work positions which have been created direclty or indirectly due to robotics. It can be seen that up to 10 million jobs worldwide owe their existence to industrial robotics technology. These jobs are related with the functioning, supervision and maintenance of robots in manufacturing sectors in which the use of robots has become indinspensable (tasks which are tedious, tiresome and unsafe for humans to perform).

Moreover, in the following table the percentage of work positions created by industrial robotics is compared against the total number of employees in specific manufacturing sectors. It can be noticed that the robotics industry, that is the design, testing and functioning of robots has created significant employment on its own. Moreover, it can be noticed that up to the 15% of work positions in the automotive sector and 10% in the electronics sector are associated with the functioning of industrial robots (technicians and specialized personnel charged with this task).

Potential for new jobs creation in the forthcoming years

There are five main areas where new jobs may be created in the next five years by the use of robotics.

  • (i) Continued development of new products based on the development of electronics and communication technology. One of the new areas identified, for example, is the manufacture of service robots. Another is the development and mass adoption of renewable energy technologies.
  • (ii) Expansion of existing economies and industries, notably automotive.
  • (iii) Greater use of robotics in the SME sectors, particularly in the developed countries, to protect or win back manufacture from the low cost countries, or to win back production which had been seen as hazardous, but which had been taken up by the developing countries.
  • (iv) Greater use of robotics in the food sector [where current use is low] as processed meals develop, to meet more stringent hygiene conditions.
  • (v) Expansion of the robotics sector itself, to cope with the growth in demand. We have assumed an 8 to 15% growth which adds 15,000 to 30,000 in each four year period.

    In the following table, forecasts are given about the creation of new work positions in sectors where industrial robots has started finding application only during the last years. There are new manufacturing activities in which industrial robotics technology can find use, such as the food industry, the fabrication of photovoltaics and wind power generation units, or the manufacturing of electric vehicles and consumer electronics. It is anticipated that by 2020 in these new sectors up to 2 million jobs can be created related to the functioning and supervision of industrial robots.

    The needs of the robotics industry in skillful personnel

    The number of the people employed in manufacturing robot systems are of the order of 150,000 [2008] and 175,000 [2011], worldwide. Almost all robot suppliers increased capacities in the period and some have built new production sites. This can be compared with almost zero employment thirty years ago.

    The second group is the skilled systems integrator and the in-house skilled technicians of the robot systems. IFR figures show 1 to 1.3 million robots in use. If a car plant has 500 robots this could require say 50 skilled technicians for the robots. This is 1 job gained per 10 robots

    The automotive industry has at least 415,000 [and possibly up to 550,000] robots [IFR report 2011] so divided by 10 = around 50,000 dedicated staff. Non automotive, typically smaller robot installations, could gain proportionately twice as many dedicated staff per 10 robots installed. A stock of 740,000 robots in 2011 robots divided by 5 or 6 = 120,000 to 150,000 dedicated staff.

    The total of the two groups both automotive and non-automotive, is 170,000 to 190,000 people. Adding the numbers employed in manufacturing robot systems, gives a total for the industry of 320,000 to 350,000


    [1] International Federation of Robotics, Executive Summary, World Robotics, 2014.

    [2] International Federation of Robotics, Executive Summary, Positive Impact of Industrial Robots on Employment, 2014