How Automation Can Increase Industrial Job Satisfaction

May 21, 2024
This episode looks at how automation technologies are improving industrial workers' satisfaction with their jobs and how employers can help their workers understand that automation should not be viewed as a threat.


Welcome to the Automation World Gets Your Questions Answered podcast. I’m David Greenfield, editor in chief at Automation World and in this episode, we’ll be looking at how automation can help increase industrial job satisfaction. Ya know, though we’re not past discussions of automation eliminating some manufacturing jobs, we are entering an era where automation is, instead, seen as eliminating the type of jobs that most people don’t want to do because of those jobs well-earned dull and dangerous reputations.

So yes, it is true that automation has been eliminating jobs for decades now, but it’s also true that most of those jobs aren’t the kind of jobs people were clamoring for in many cases. It’s also true that automation has opened up a range of new job types associated with automation installation, maintenance and repair as well as in software development and application, just to name a few.

And now we’re beginning to see evidence that automation can help increase job satisfaction across industry.

For example, when welding robots were first introduced at DeAngelo Marine Exhaust, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based metal fabricator, the fabricators in the shop weren’t very enthusiastic about them. These highly skilled craftsmen were skeptical about robots being able to replace their ability to produce aircraft-quality welds on the exhaust parts they make for marine engines. 

But once the fabricators saw how the collaborative robots from Universal Robots, supplied by robotics as a service company Hirebotics, were capable of producing the required-quality welds quickly, they were impressed. Now, the robots weld high-volume subassemblies in a newly created pre-fabrication department before those subassemblies go to the fabricators for further processing. The fabricators, who are the highest paid employees in the shop, now focus on more challenging work and leave the mundane, repetitive work to the robots and the operators who tend them. 

The CEO of DeAngelo Marine Exhaust said, “The same people who were afraid of the cobot are now calling me on weekends, suggesting new parts to run on the cobot. It’s been a morale booster for our work culture, he said.

At Automation World, we’ve seen that a key tactic for preserving and enhancing job satisfaction with automation is to directly address the two main sources of anxiety and fear caused by the installation of advanced automation—and those are displacement and upskilling. 

Misha Schurman, director of enablement and user adoption at Seeq, a provider of industrial analytics software, said “The fear associated with up-skilling usually has to do with not wanting to do a different or harder job. This fear can be driven by upcoming retirement, or workers being afraid of an inability to handle more advanced training or tasks.”

So Schurman advises tackling these fears up front, first by naming them. For example, if you’ve heard about fears that folks will be let go, she says to “address it by describing exactly what employees will be expected to do and what opportunities this transition might offer. And be sure to clarify if it will offer them work that is more interesting, has better pay, or provide a growth path in the company.

To provide defined growth paths, Schurman urges employers to set aside the necessary resources to support a continuing upskilling program. She said, “This includes monetary and time investments for hands-on, relevant training. Employers should provide paid time for training without distractions from the workplace. They should also have someone with the responsibility for establishing and executing these training plans.

Such plans should go beyond teaching workers the mechanics of how to accomplish particular tasks and include training on applying judgement, because that’s where human workers add unique value and justify higher compensation. There’s a growing demand in industry for individuals who are comfortable working in ambiguous situations, who can see the bigger picture and understand how to apply the correct tools. This means that workers increasingly need to understand processes from first principles and have the ability to use data analytics and causal reasoning to determine why something is occurring in the process and to predict what will happen. 

Schurman said “Spending great deals of time learning the intricacies of coding is on the way out and its being replaced by higher-level critical thinking and a focus on understanding systems.”

Now, one way employers can help employees hone these higher-level skills is to keep training in mind when selecting new automation technologies. 

Some vendors provide extensive free training, such as Universal Robots’ UR Academy which offers nine free, interactive modules that cover the basics of robot programming and setup.

Darex, a manufacturer of drill and knife sharpeners in Ashland, Oregon, began using collaborative robots from Universal Robots years ago to automate screw-driving and box-erecting operations. Darex had trouble filling these positions not only because of the type of work involved but also due to the company’s location in a rural valley. 

With the addition of the cobots to address labor issues and provide greater production capacity, John Griffin, director of operations at Darex, wanted one of Darex’s workers to become the robot technician. So, he organized a competition that had the robot technician job as the prize. He gave the production line operators the web address of the UR Academy and told them to study up on programming. Three weeks later, Darex held several rounds of contests in which employees programmed the robots to perform simple pick-and-place tasks.

Brittany Mohrman, an operator at Darex, won the contest and was promoted to robot technician. Now, besides performing day-to-day maintenance, she troubleshoots robot problems and handles changeovers. According to Mohrman, her new job is much more interesting than her old one.

Another technique that Seeq’s Schurman has found to be useful for changing negative attitudes about automation is to create teams that mix workers who have a negative perception with those who have a positive perception. She had success with this technique during a data analytics course she recently taught at a plant with a mix of older engineers nearing retirement and their younger colleagues.

“Initially, the older engineers were very resistant to the course. After all their approach had worked fine for decades, and they didn’t really understand the computer programs.” Besides not being convinced of the need for analytics in their operations, there was also a fear among the older engineers that automation would replace them only a few years out from retirement.

The younger engineers, on the other hand, picked up the software procedures quickly. But they had difficulty identifying what problems to optimize first and what they needed to understand about how the process is running.

Schurman said they paired the more senior engineers—who could articulate exactly what they wanted to know—with the younger engineers, who, once given the right questions, could easily answer them using the software. This team bridged a long-running divide between the two groups in the company, helping transfer knowledge from the older generation to the younger, and increasing the respect each group had for one another.”

Another way of fostering a sense of belonging to a team in the face of growing automation use is by demonstrating a commitment to the employees. 

Tom Doring, president of the Americas at the Ammega Group, a manufacturer of smart conveyor belts, said “Job satisfaction comes from working at a company that invests in its employees, promotes from within and fosters entrepreneurial thinking. According to Doring, introducing automation to workers too early—before an action plan for it is in place—is a common pitfall among manufacturers. 

Doring said Job security and confidence impact employee satisfaction, which is why companies need a plan to communicate the benefits of automation to their employees and offer them opportunities and rewards for advancing their automation knowledge and skills. 

And don’t forget about connecting with your local manufacturing extension partnership to explore avenues that might exist for supporting an upskilling initiative at your company. To see what’s available in your area, visit There are also online resources, like that can help you find training available in specific regions.

So thanks for listening to this episode of the Automation World Gets Your Questions Answered podcast series. And remember to keep watching this space to stay on top of the latest news, trends and insights on the world of industrial automation.