With Pandemic Job Losses, Labor Shortages, Employers Innovate and Automate

With Pandemic Job Losses, Labor Shortages, Employers Innovate and Automate With Pandemic Job Losses, Labor Shortages, Employers Innovate and Automate A robot in a mattress factory. (Jean-Francois Monier/AFP via Getty Images)

By Charles Kim | Wednesday, 19 May 2021 06:19 PM

A devastating pandemic with massive unemployment, followed by a shortage of workers during the recovery is forming a boon for the automation industry.

With all the bad economic news swirling around the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, employers are having a hard time filling jobs as the nation begins to slowly return to normal, the United States has somehow been able to produce as much as it did prior to the virus thanks to innovation and automation, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

According to the report, the nation is currently producing the same amount of goods and services with 8.2 million less workers due in large part to companies innovating by using more advanced software, robots, and other artificial intelligence methods of automation.

“Universally, they talk about inability to get adequate labor, very high turnover and clear wage inflation at the low end,” Huntington Bancshares Chief Executive Stephen Steinour told the Post. “A consequence of that will be more investment by many of them into automation.”

Steinour’s Columbus, Ohio bank has been fielding “dozens” of business customer requests to fund equipment purchases to help automate.

Another company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that deals in autonomous forklifts told the Post that its sales doubled last year.

Seegrid Chief Executive Jim Rock told the newspaper he plans to increase his workers by 200 to 350 to keep up with the growth in business.

“Business is good. I’m bullish on this year and the next five years,” Rock said.

Although seemingly counter-intuitive given the massive shedding of jobs during the height of the pandemic and now the lackluster return of workers to the job market, experts in the field are saying the “tectonic” shift in the economy may end up fueling an economic rebirth of sorts that will increase productivity.

“Early evidence indicates that many firms were bold and innovative in response to the pandemic,” A March 30 report by the economic development research firm McKinsey & Company said. “Companies shifted rapidly to online channels, automated production tasks, increased operational efficiency, and sped up decision making and innovation of operating models. This could potentially more than double the rate of annual productivity growth observed after the global financial crisis.”