Workers on The Run

By Sricharan Guddanti

The rise of automation, or the technology by which a process is done with very little human assistance, has had many effects, good and bad, on the world. It has improved the workplace in many ways that allows employees to have freedom in their daily jobs. In addition, robots add safety and security, as humans who do physical labor no longer have work with heavy loads or large, potentially dangerous machines. Automated machines will handle these things for them. These machines are also very consistent, and they are free from factors that might affect humans, such as fatigue, diminishing health, or a vulnerable state of mind. Because of this, robots have higher productivity; this means more products output by a robot than by an employee in a given time. With this seemingly profitable change, more and more employers are moving to automation to meet their demands. 


The idea of automating processes is intriguing. Currently in China, the industrial hub for manufacturing, the industry and government are implementing automation quickly. China has the largest manufacturing workforce in the world, with over 112 million people relying on this industry. Although China has so many people available to perform the physical labor the industry requires, the Chinese government is planning to make its workforce largely automated because as mentioned earlier, the robots being implemented will improve productivity and hence increase profits. In fact, automation in China has increased so much that in 2017, China surpassed Japan for the world’s largest market for industrial robots, and “the International Federation of Robotics estimat[ed] that China will have installed at least 800,000 industrial robots by 2020,” mentioned South China Morning Post. 


Robots are replacing humans in the workplace at an alarming rate, and this situation is even more prevalent in China. For example, Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer that makes materials for much of the world’s iPhones, is preparing to fully automate 30 percent of its workforce by next year. Between 2012 and 2016, the company reportedly cut more than 400,000 jobs as a result of installing numerous robots to its warehouses and factories. The addition of robots and removal of human employees has resulted in two things: worker displacement, among those who lost their jobs, and increased salaries for those who are technically skilled and safe from being replaced. Many workers are either laid off or offered a subordinate job, when automation takes over their sector of the company. Losing a job adds an immense amount of stress and pressure. With companies all over China switching to using robots, manual labor job opportunities are diminishing, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for workers to find work that offers the same pay as their previous job. 


The introduction of robots in China has its advantages and disadvantages. Automation in the workplace gives employees increased safety and security, higher employee value, and more freedom from the routine of the job. Furthermore, robots allow for higher productivity and better product quality as these machines are more consistent with manufacturing than their human counterparts. On the contrary, automated machines cause worker displacement, which greatly affects employees who lost their jobs due to the revolution of automation. With the ever increasing demand for robots in the workforce, the Chinese worker population will likely be left stranded with no jobs to work and a dwindling amount of money to live on.