Automation is expected to replace about 20 million manufacturing jobs worldwide by 2030, according to analysis by Oxford Economics.
The report suggests about 8.5% of the world’s factory workers are at risk of being replaced by machines. It further states that new jobs will likely be created at the same rate of replacement – but that the shifting workforce could worsen economic inequality.
Oxford Economics’ report estimates that each robot installed displaces an average of 1.6 workers.
Automation is increasing in popularity across nations and sectors, as costs fall and robots become cheaper than human workers. Oxford Economics estimates that the average unit price per robot fell 11% between 2011 and 2016, while technology improves and machine capabilities become more complex.
Automation also offers ‘lights out’ productivity, with robots working through the night to maximise output.
Some regions are set to be disproportionately affected, with China leading the way in automating its workforce. China already uses 20% of the world’s industrial robots, and is investing heavily in robots in order to position itself as a global manufacturing leader. Within a decade, approximately 14 million robots could be in use in China, according to Oxford Economics.
Although robots will maximise productivity, that growth does come at a predicted cost of 20 million jobs.
“This great displacement will not be evenly distributed around the world, or within countries,” according to the report. “Our research shows that the negative effects of robotization are disproportionately felt in the lower-income regions compared with higher-income regions of the same country.”
And though the report claims that new jobs will be created at the same rate as jobs are lost, the most vulnerable workers in the poorest areas will be unlikely to benefit. This could lead to increased income inequality, and more extreme urban-rural divides.
“Automation will continue to drive regional polarization in many of the world’s advanced economies, unevenly distributing the benefits and costs across the population,” the report said.
About 1.7 million manufacturing jobs have already been lost to robots since 2000, including 400,000 in Europe, 260,000 in the US, and 550,000 in China.