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Global Economy

The salvation in the event of a shortage of skilled workers?

Getting an appointment with Martin Beinlich in these dry days is not easy. The manager travels a lot. The third-generation family business has specialized in irrigation technology for agriculture. "Our turnover has more than doubled recently," says Beinlich. The reason is the increasingly extreme drought – in Germany and in other parts of the world. "We value long-term customer loyalty. Tradition is important to us, but we also have to change." This also applies to human resources.

Personnel search big "challenge"

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the medium-sized company in Ulmen, Rhineland-Palatinate, to find suitable employees. "We have been lucky with our people for many years. But I doubt whether I could get additional workers now. Recruiting is now the biggest challenge," says Beinlich.

In concrete terms, therefore, Beinlich is planning to purchase welding robots. The reason: some welders will leave the company over the next few years. You are retiring. "The automation is intended for standardized and recurring work processes. No colleague will be replaced by a computer. There will be a mixed solution. Specialists are still needed to guarantee the processes and quality," explains Beinlich. In doing so, his company is also following the trend on the labor markets – in Germany and worldwide.

"lack of people too great"

In Kaiserslautern, Martin Ruskowski hears Beinlich's plans and nods. "I come from the industry myself and know a lot about welding robots. More and more companies are gradually converting." Today Ruskowski works at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) in Kaiserslautern. He is chairman of the board of the technology initiative SmartFactory-KL. In this "smart workshop", artificial intelligence (AI) develops programs for robotics and automation together with other scientists and companies.

The increasing labor shortage does not surprise Ruskowski at all, but something else entirely. "Demographic change has been foreseeable for decades. Much more needs to be done here from all sides," he says. "Because it is clear that automation can only partially compensate for the loss of manpower. The lack of people on the market is becoming too great for that."

Automation no longer eats jobs

The economy is already much further ahead than politics here: "The demand from companies for automation has increased continuously and sharply in recent years. Even small business owners are not concerned with saving employees and thus money, but with continuing to produce at all be able."

For a long time, however, robots and artificial intelligence were considered a threat to jobs, especially in Germany. Ruskowsi counters: "Automation has always created additional jobs. Machines have not replaced people, they have supported them. Entire branches of industry with many employees and enormous added value have been created."

With decreasing employee numbers, the productivity of the company can be maintained and even increased through automation. "Look at the technical development and the demographic development in many industrialized nations. Only the economies that implement digitization and automation quickly will survive on the market."

"The shortage is the new standard"

"What we are observing on the labor market is not a state of emergency. In this decade, the working population in Germany will begin to shrink. Shortage is the new standard," analyzes economic expert Daniel Stelter. For the strategy consultant, automation in the labor market is a possibility. But he still sees additional potential: "We could increase the employment rate – for example, motivate people to work longer than 63 years instead of financially promoting early retirement. We could also create incentives to get people out of long-term unemployment." The high tax burden also makes work unattractive for many. However, there is no willingness in politics to use these opportunities.

This is one of the reasons why rapid digitization is imperative for Germany as a business location. "Productivity increases have not only decreased in Germany, but worldwide. Other countries also have similar demographic problems. They will try to secure their competitiveness through automation." Germany must go along with it – "Otherwise our welfare state with all its promises cannot be financed in the future."

supplement, not substitute

But where do German companies stand in an international comparison? "In Japan, for example, there are robots in many different sectors. Germany has a large number, but mainly in the automotive industry. Overall, there is a lot of catching up to do in many sectors," says Stelter. He complains that the Augsburg high-tech company KUKA has been sold to China. "A lot of specialist knowledge is also lost as a result, which we will painfully feel in the long term among the specialists."

Entrepreneur Beinlich wants to build a new production hall for automation in Ulmen. "The development towards welding robots is inevitable, but that's not the silver bullet. If the machines fail due to a malfunction, entire production processes are paralyzed. Here, too, I need specialists for maintenance and repairs, and there are very few of them." That's why the managing director wants to invest more in his staff in the future – because computers are only a supplement for colleagues, not a substitute.

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