The Pros and Cons of Automation in the Workforce

Advancements in technology have led to a number of previously labor-intensive tasks now becoming automated. In the workplace, many jobs are being taken by machines, leaving employees out of work. Automation in the workforce is a slippery slope; on one hand, it is much more efficient and can save companies money, while on the other, hard-working people no longer have income. Here’s a closer look at both the benefits and the downfalls of this new wave of automation.

Pro: Save Money

Image via Flickr by 401(K) 2013

Quite obviously, the biggest pro for automation is the cost savings for companies. Not only does this provide them with more profit, but it also lowers the prices for customers.

Take the case study example of a company that invested in a case sealer machine that automatically applies labels to boxes. This small investment was able to save them 30 percent in tape cost, 75 percent in stretch film cost, and increased output by 600 percent. In all, it totaled to $100,000 in savings for just a $26,000 initial investment.

Pro: Consistent Output

Sure, laborers are probably pretty consistent on the job. However, they are still human, meaning that output might vary slightly from day to day.

Machines, on the other hand, can work 24 hours a day without halting. They don’t need breaks, and their speed is constant.

Pro: Increased Safety

There are some jobs that just aren’t safe for humans to do, like lifting heavy objects or working with dangerous chemicals. Automation can keep people away from these tasks to decrease workplace injuries. 

Con: Initial Investment

Making the switch to job automation isn’t free. In fact, it’s quite a costly endeavor, meaning you won’t reap the benefits of the decision for quite some time.

For example, the average cost of an order-taking kiosk for a fast food restaurant is about $10,000. Since the average salary for an order-taking worker in a fast food restaurant is about $18,000, you can see that you might make money as early as the first year — as long as you have the upfront cash to make the initial investment.

Con: Loss of Jobs

The biggest consequence of automating jobs is the unemployment of much of the country’s workforce. To use the trucking industry as an example, 27 percent of professional CDL drivers believe their job might be at risk in the next five years because of the looming risk of self-driving vehicles. The White House is affirming this belief, estimating that 1.7 million drivers could eventually lose their jobs due to autonomous vehicles.

This is just one small industry. When you think about other fields that are facing the same problems, the risk of people losing their jobs is overwhelming.

Con: Maintenance

Running a machine is not free. You’ll have to pay for a lot of upgrades and maintenance along the way, include system updates, broken electronics, and more.

The pros and cons of job automation are neck and neck, making it hard to take a side. We might only see the true effects of this practice once it becomes more mainstream in the future.