Lack of workers spurs growth for robots

Prior to the coronavirus, economies in the industrial world were moving along fairly smoothly—reliable supply chains with “just in time” arrivals, predictable deliveries, low interest rates, little inflation, abundant reasonably priced energy and an adequate workforce.

It was a set up for a perfect storm.

That cataclysmic eruption two years ago slammed countries worldwide just like happened with World War I and the Spanish Flu plague just over a century ago. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens world peace and international supplies of wheat, corn, natural gas and valuable metals such as nickel.

Who could have imagined a war-torn Eastern Europe, a run on toilet paper and parents driving miles to find infant formula? Who would have thought the price of a gallon of gas would soar past $6, and truckers would pay $7 a gallon diesel? No one pictured empty car lots and up to eight-month wait lists for new vehicles. When was the last time Boeing’s 737 production line in Renton was stopped by lack of parts?

Today, inflation is spiking at a 8.26% for the last year, and nationwide job openings are pegged at 11.4 million. That’s prompted companies to order robots to maintain production and lower costs. Further acerbating the labor shortage is 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in April even though the Labor Department reported the U.S. economy added 428,000 nonfarm jobs.

“The average paycheck for American workers has gotten bigger during the pandemic. Ordinarily that would be cause to jump for joy. But the reason for the increase is grim: Millions of low-income jobs are gone, and that has pushed average pay higher,” Anneken Tappe of CNN Business reported.

Wage increases have been offset by higher prices for groceries, energy and rent. The one consistent bright spot has been demand for robots and semiconductors that rely on abundant electricity and skilled workers, not vaccines. As employers struggle to find workers, stabilize output, rebuild dependable supply chains and control costs, robots are rapidly showing up in businesses. Companies, such as Intel and TSMC, are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on increasing semiconductor fabrication capacity in Arizona and Ohio.

Orders for workplace robots in our country jumped 40% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2022 as U.S. companies are leveraging automation to combat ongoing labor shortages—and inflation continues to hover near a 40-year high, FOX Business reports.

According to the Association for Advancing Automation, during the first three months of 2022, more than 9,000 robots collectively worth $544 million were sold in the United States. Across North American, robot sales were the most ever for that same period.

Interestingly, many of the robots come from China. Data released by the International Federation of Robotics shows Chinese sales of industrial robots increase by 19% in 2020. Long before the pandemic, China’s national goal was to shake the image of just being a nation for low-cost manufacturing. Instead, it is becoming known for producing cutting edge, reliable and high-quality products.

The accelerated switch to robots is across business sectors. “Companies of all sizes and increasingly small and medium-sized companies, are deploying robotic and automation because it’s more feasible than before,” A3’s Alex Shikany told Fox Business.

The bottom line is as wages surge ahead, robots are replacing jobs. The key is to have more highly trained workers prepared for world where robots are increasing at an accelerated pace.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He can be contacted at