Mon. Dec 11th, 2023
    Automation: A Solution to Iowa’s Workforce Shortage

    Iowa has long faced a challenge when it comes to its workforce. Employers across the state constantly express frustration over the lack of available workers. Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms these concerns, showing that Iowa’s workforce has grown at a much slower rate than the national average over the past two decades. Additionally, the state’s labor force participation rate has yet to recover from the impact of the Great Recession.

    These trends have proven especially problematic for Iowa’s labor-intensive manufacturing sector, which ranks second only to finance in its contribution to the state’s economy. In an effort to address the shortage of workers, more and more Iowa factory owners are turning to automation.

    One example is Clow Valve of Oskaloosa, which recently embarked on a $75 million expansion project that includes the implementation of automation in its production processes. Mark Willett, Clow’s vice president and general manager, explained that the scarcity of available workers was a driving factor behind this decision. By incorporating automation, Clow Valve can maximize productivity while reducing the number of new hires required. While some existing employees will require training to operate the automated systems, Willett is confident that this investment will lead to higher wages and greater job stability for the workforce.

    Clow Valve is not alone in its pursuit of technological solutions. The Center for Industrial Research and Services at Iowa State University has been operating a robotics lab since 2019, aimed at assisting manufacturers in implementing automation. Andrew Friend, an automation engineer at the Bioeconomy Institute at ISU, emphasizes that automation is crucial for handling monotonous and hazardous tasks in manufacturing. As workers seek more engaging and safer employment opportunities, automation provides a viable solution for filling these demanding roles.

    For Iowa, the success of its manufacturing industry hinges on maintaining productivity despite the limited workforce. With over 4,200 manufacturing locations and 224,000 workers employed in the sector, automation presents an opportunity to enhance efficiency and grow the state’s economy. Iowa’s community colleges play a crucial role in this transition by equipping individuals with the necessary skills to work with automated systems.

    Contrary to common misconceptions, the rise of automation does not mean the replacement of human workers. Instead, it allows companies to scale up production, meet consumer demand, and ensure consistent quality. A report commissioned by the Iowa Economic Development Authority predicts that almost a quarter of work hours in the state will be automated by 2030, but it also anticipates the creation of 15 million new jobs nationwide through automation.

    Embracing automation is proving to be a positive step forward for Iowa’s manufacturers, enabling them to produce more, increase their capacity, and in turn, offer more employment opportunities. Automation is not a threat to the workforce but rather a tool to overcome the challenges posed by a shrinking labor pool. By investing in technology and training, Iowa’s manufacturers can secure their position in an increasingly competitive global market.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    1. Is the shortage of workers unique to Iowa?
    No, worker shortages are a nationwide concern, but Iowa has experienced a slower workforce growth rate compared to the national average.

    2. How does automation benefit Iowa’s manufacturers?
    Automation allows manufacturers to increase productivity, handle repetitive and hazardous tasks, and meet rising consumer demand. It also provides the opportunity to upskill existing employees and improve job stability.

    3. Will automation replace human workers?
    Contrary to common misconceptions, automation is not meant to replace human workers. Instead, it allows companies to scale up production and create more job opportunities.

    4. How are Iowa’s community colleges involved in the transition to automation?
    Iowa’s community colleges play a vital role in training individuals to work with automated systems, equipping them with the skills needed for the evolving job market.

    5. What is the future outlook for automation in Iowa?
    A report by the Iowa Economic Development Authority predicts that automation will automate nearly a quarter of work hours in the state by 2030. However, it also anticipates the creation of 15 million new jobs nationally through automation.