Artificial Intelligence

Robot workers are being hired at record rates in US companies - here’s why

A Rapid Robotics robot is seen from above as it moves a product in a Westec Plastics Corp warehouse in Livermore, California, U.S.

“Businesses just can’t find the people they need - that’s why they’re racing to automate,” Jeff Burnstein, President of A3. Image: REUTERS/Nathan Frandino

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  • US companies ordered more robots than ever before in the first nine months of 2021, as they struggled to recruit staff.
  • Economic disruption caused by COVID-19 and increased remote working has accelerated technical take-up rates.
  • Cloud computing, big data and e-commerce adoption is expected to continue growing in the coming years, displacing more workplace processes.

Robotics development has long prompted concerns that machines will take jobs from humans, but, in the US, robot orders have hit an all-time high as many companies struggle to recruit staff.

Factories and industrial concerns in North America ordered a record 29,000 robots during the first nine months of 2021, a 37% increase on the previous year, according to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3).

Fixed-function robots have become a common feature of factory production lines, helping to manufacture everything from cars to food products. Alongside this, advances in autonomous technology have helped fuel a global robot boom with widespread applications ranging from AI-enabled mechanical fryers to autonomous industrial plant inspection units.

a chart showing that the use of AI and automation is increasing rapidly in the workplace, across different sectors.
Use of AI and automation is increasing rapidly in the workplace, across different sectors. Image: Association for Advancing Automation

As the chart above shows, the use of robots and automation is on an upward trend. Leading adopters such as car manufacturers are integrating more robots into their operations, while first-time users are emerging in industries including agriculture, construction, electronics, food processing, life sciences, metalworking, warehousing and more, A3 states.

“Businesses just can’t find the people they need - that’s why they’re racing to automate,” Jeff Burnstein, President of A3, told Reuters.

Future robot roles

The combination of pandemic-induced recession and automation’s growing footprint is creating a “double-disruption”, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2020 report.

Short-term economic disruption caused by the response to COVID-19, coupled with a sudden switch to remote working for many, have accelerated the rate of technology adoption.

Cloud computing, big data and e-commerce adoption is expected to continue growing in the coming years, the report predicts. By 2025, cloud computing among companies that have taken part in the annual survey is expected to increase by 17% on 2018 levels, for example.

a chart showing the share of tasks performed by humans vs machines, 2020 and 2025 (expected), by share of companies surveyed
Machines are predicted to play an increasing role by 2025. Image: World Economic Forum

Humans vs robots: share of jobs

The allocation of tasks between humans and machines also looks set to change. Across a wide range of activities, Future of Jobs 2020 survey respondents expect robots will take on more repetitive or menial tasks and leave humans free to focus on more substantive tasks.

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An estimated 85 million jobs may be displaced by this shift from human to machine workers by 2025. So, which roles will our increasingly automated future create more of, and which ones will disappear?

charts showing that AI, machine learning and big data specialists are in high demand.
AI, machine learning and big data specialists are in high demand. Image: World Economic Forum

Across a range of industry sectors, AI, machine learning and big data specialists are in high demand, as are analysts and scientists that can interpret data.

Just as roles linked to data, automation and digital strategy are booming, several traditional jobs are disappearing, from administrative to accounting functions, assembly line work to bank tellers. The World Economic Forum predicts that automation will create 58 million more jobs than it displaces.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?


With the pace of technological change accelerating, training, reskilling and upskilling the workforce is becoming increasingly important to prevent a widening skills gap. As more robots are employed to take on more tasks, the Forum says it is vital companies and policymakers support at-risk or displaced workers to learn new skills and adapt to the evolving world of work.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Artificial IntelligenceFourth Industrial RevolutionEmerging Technologies
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