Waukesha County Technical College student Doug Roblee
(front) is using a teach pendant to program the Fanuc Robot
in WCTC’s Automation Systems Technology program.
WAUKESHA — The decade-long debate of whether automation is
replacing humans in the job market has culminated in a study
suggesting that robots may not in fact be taking over.
According to Manpower Group’s report “Humans Wanted: Robots Need
You,” 87 percent of employers plan to increase or maintain their
headcount as a result of automation for the third consecutive
year — the study sampled 19,000 employers in 44 countries on the
impact of automation on job growth in the next two years.
The same study suggests that even as global talent shortages
approach a 12year high, new skills are appearing as fast as
others disappear. In fact, more companies are planning to build
their workforce talent with 84 percent planning to upskill
employees by 2020 — an exponential increase from 21 percent in
Rhetoric in the manufacturing industry that suggests robots are
eliminating jobs has distracted manufacturers from the real
issue in the automation and manufacturing industry, said Jonas
Prising, Manpower Group chairman & CEO.
“More and more robots are being added to the workforce, but
humans are too,” Prising said. “Tech is here to stay and it’s
our responsibility as leaders to become chief learning officers
and work out how we integrate humans with machines.”
When a robot takes over more
repetitive and mundane tasks, employees rise to more
challenging roles in robot operation and programming. Shown
is Brad Lund,
robot programming manager at Acieta.
Robots equal more humans
In reality, robots are helping shift the type of work employees
engage in on the job, said Steve Alexander, vice president of
operations at Acieta, a local robotics integrator. For example,
a single operator tends to one robot in charge of multiple
tasks, which may have previously required an operator for each
“This frees up the operator to do highly skilled tasks like
quality checks or setting up a part program,” Alexander said.
He added that as companies purchase more robotics and upskill
their employees, they also become more competitive, which allows
companies to grow.
“The more that company grows, the more employees will be hired,”
This pattern of adding robots and then adding more employees as
production increases is a trend that can be found at several
local manufacturing companies, including Waukesha- based
Tony Mallinger, Metal-Era president and CEO, said his company
implemented automation into the production process in 2008. In
the last decade, the company has added four robots to their
arsenal and as a result, shifted laborers to a different segment
of the production process, he said.
“We went into this with the idea that we were never going to
lose, cut a job or downsize,” Mallinger said. “Our employees in
the production side have only grown over the last 10 years.”
Over the years, Waukesha County has become a hub for the
automation industry as more companies make the transition.
“We have a very strong manufacturing economy in Waukesha
County,” said Suzanne Kelley, Waukesha County Business Alliance
president and CEO. “There’s a growing number of companies that
are adopting automation and we’re fortunate to have a number of
companies in Waukesha County that are leaders in this area.”
Regional Service Manager Todd Fickau works on a robot at
The robot may be the center of the solution, but everything
around that robot, including conveyors, sensors, grippers,
safety circuit and programs, are all components that require the
work of humans.
“An integrator takes on all of these tasks, which require a team
of salespeople, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers,
assemblers and programmers,” Alexander said.
As the manufacturing industry shifts, a wide-open job market has
led to schools and universities shifting educational programs to
meet the demands of industry employers. At Waukesha County
Technical College, students are learning to program computers
and to build and operate programs necessary to run automation,
said Michael Shiels, WCTC dean of applied technologies.
“Even though things are being automated and robots are key to
the future, there still needs to be technicians in the welding
and machining industry to program and operate that high-tech
equipment,” Shiels said.
Automation specifically in the manufacturing industry has grown
so much in recent years that students are enrolling in
automation programs at WCTC as early as high school, Shiels
“We want to get high school students engaged in these
opportunities as soon as we can to give a jump start on the
great career opportunities that are ahead of them in the
automation field,” Shiels said.