[Korea and the fourth industrial revolution <16-2 Smart Factories>] Smarter robots might not mean fewer jobs

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[Korea and the fourth industrial revolution <16-2 Smart Factories>] Smarter robots might not mean fewer jobs


Students at Konkuk University in eastern Seoul test a 3-D printer at the school’s recently opened “Smart Factory” lab. [KONKUK UNIVERSITY]

Adidas’ Speedfactory, with its robots and 3-D printers, is expected to create 160 jobs, according to the sportswear company, compared to a thousand or more jobs created at a typical shoe making facility in Asia.

Hanwha Techwin’s new factory in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, with machines that run 24 hours, can operate with half the workforce of its other factories, the company said.

With these statistics, it’s no wonder people believe the advent of smart factories could mean the loss of jobs.

A 2015 report by Boston Consulting Group about the effect of advanced factory technology on the German workforce estimates “a greater use of robotics and computerization will reduce the number of jobs in assembly and production by approximately 610,000.”

However, the consulting firm also noted that these job losses “will be more than offset by the creation of approximately 960,000 new jobs.” The new jobs, according to the firm, will be created from increased demand for highly-skilled workers in information technology, analytics and research and development, as well as newly created employment opportunities.

“There is much fear about the future, but it’s largely because humans can only foresee what kind of jobs will disappear, not what kind of jobs will be created until they are there,” said Lee Min-hwa, chairman of the Korea Creative Research Network.

“Since there will be automation of all routine tasks, there will be job losses,” Henning Kagermann, president of Acatech in Germany, said in an email interview. “These can be overcompensated by growth opportunities under one precondition: that we have to invest in qualifications and training.”

As job demands are set to differ in the future, universities are crafting measures to help students adjust.

Konkuk University in eastern Seoul opened a lab space for students called “Smart Factory” in May with an investment of 4 billion won ($3.5 million). The lab includes a virtual reality test room, 3-D printers and drone testing zones.

The ERICA Campus of Hanyang University in Gyeonggi is working with LS Industrial Systems to educate students in core technologies related to smart factories including user interface design for factory machines.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor in March established 17 skill certifications related to robots, 3-D printing and biotechnology. Students can now obtain an official government license for skills like 3-D printer operation, robot software design and robot hardware development.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]
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