Can Automation Solve the Labor Crisis? Some Food for Thought

As businesses everywhere look to ramp up their operations following a year and a half of impact due to the pandemic, many are having trouble finding the employees they need to do the job. According to one study from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 48 percent of SMBs said they were having trouble hiring the necessary labor to reopen following the pandemic.

SMBs that may not be able to find the talent they need in their area may be interested in the promises of automation to fulfill their labor needs. Automation can streamline manufacturing on a factory floor, pick products off warehouse shelves for shipping, deliver menus or take orders in a busy restaurant, and address customer service questions without hiring or training additional staff.

Automation can also take place in more subtle ways. For an SMB, this may include digitizing paperwork, leveraging workflow technologies to streamline operations, and more. These are more straightforward tasks that often can be automated with the implementation of the right software tool.

The outcome of these investments in automation is intended to increase efficiency in operations and realize cost-cutting benefits over the long term. This can help alleviate the burden on staff and potentially fill some of the gaps left in the current labor shortage. Automation can also eliminate menial or repetitive tasks, freeing them to focus on more strategic or impactful work to the overall business.

More and more SMBs say they are evaluating the benefits that automation can bring to their business. A recent survey of SMB business owners found that 80 percent of organizations believed that automation was essential to their survival, and 75 percent had increased their technology investment significantly, with many citing automation as a post-COVID priority.

However, automation is not an overnight silver bullet for all SMB labor woes. Depending on the implemented technology, it can be pretty expensive and require significant time to implement and train effectively. It also cannot (yet) replace some job functions or fields, such as teachers or nurses, that require a uniquely human touch.

It’s also essential to consider the ethical arguments against automation, which include the concern that robots and automation could eventually displace workers actively looking for a job. While this may not be as much of a concern amidst the current labor shortage, it is a crucial consideration long-term.

While it’s essential to evaluate all the pros and cons, the reality is that automation is on the rise, and SMBs should take the time to consider how they can benefit from leveraging them. The current labor market may be one reason to begin this journey, but in so doing, they may find many other ways to grow or optimize their business.

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