Better, Smarter, Faster

There are only five days left in July … five days. Where has the summer gone? Once we roll into August it always feels like summer is winding down, and in a sense it is, as we prepare to send the kids back to school. As many of us begin back-to-school shopping for the kids, maybe it’s also a good time to start your own shopping list. We get the kids pencils, pens and notebooks so they can do their jobs of being students. But what do you need to help you do your job?

You probably said “people,” right? I know we are in a time like no other where companies across all industries are struggling to find workers. I don’t have magic words to make workers appear and I don’t have a crystal ball to tell you when they’ll all start lining up to work. But what I do know is that many companies are finding ways to continue working better, smarter and even faster.

Of course I’m talking about automation. This is nothing new. Companies have been investing in automation for years. Now, however, they are finding this investment isn’t just something they want to do, but something they must do.

I’ve recently spoken to several machinery and equipment suppliers who told me this year has been incredibly busy, especially with customers ready to invest in automation.

Not only are fabricators, for example, finding that automation helps them continue to operate—in some cases doing just as much, if not more—they are also finding other benefits. In particular, better quality, which has become a big focus over the past few years.

I know we’ve all heard the questions and concerns in the past, that robotics and automation are only going to replace people, and then someone is out of a job. But I don’t think robotics and automation were ever intended to necessarily eliminate a person. Instead, this can enhance the types of jobs, potentially making employment even more attractive through higher skilled positions.

That doesn’t help when there is no one wanting to do the job. As someone recently told me, that robot isn’t going to say it’s sick and can’t make it in today. Instead it’s going to do the job. And right now, there aren’t many showing up for work.

But like I said earlier, I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know what happens next. I do know that when you look at the most recent Architectural Billings Index from the AIA you see a healthy score, which will likely translate into a need for glass and glazing. So if the fabricators don’t have the people, what will they do?

While we may be able to automate certain types of production, the same can’t be said for every job out there. Architectural firms, for example, are facing labor challenges as well. As AIA chief economist Kermit Baker noted, “… as is often the case when market conditions make a sudden reversal, concerns are growing about architecture firms not being able to find enough workers to meet the higher workloads. Nearly six in 10 firms report that they are having problems filling open architectural staff positions.”

That’s a tough one to automate.