published : 2023-10-15

AI Threatens Blue-Collar Jobs: Gen AI's Impact on Manufacturing

Artificial intelligence isn't just a threat to white-collar workers, but also to blue-collar jobs in the manufacturing industry.

A factory worker operating a high-tech automated guided vehicle (AGV) in a warehouse, taken with a Nikon D850

Renowned consulting firm Ernst & Young's Global Chairman, Carmine Di Sibio, recently discussed the U.S. Treasury's $1T debt deluge and its relationship with artificial intelligence on ‘Mornings with Maria’.

The rise of generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) is causing concern across industries, as it poses a significant threat to white-collar jobs. However, the rapid advancement of this technology in the manufacturing sector indicates that blue-collar workers are also at risk of being replaced.

Ed Watal, founder and principal of IT strategy firm Intellibus, explains that AI is catalyzing the fourth industrial revolution, revolutionizing manufacturing through automation, predictive maintenance, and quality control.

A group of manufacturing engineers closely monitoring the production line with the help of AI-powered quality tools, taken with a Canon EOS R5

In the past few years, smart transport robots (STRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) have started eliminating tasks such as operating forklifts in warehouses and factories. With the advent of Gen AI, technology can now handle more complex operations that were previously carried out by humans.

Gen AI models, acting as 'digital twins,' can simulate and optimize production lines and plants without the need for physically shutting them down or operating expensive pilot plants. Consequently, the expertise of 'experienced' workers can be captured in their 'digital supervisor twin,' reducing the need for multiple workers in maintenance or quality engineering roles.

The impact of Gen AI on manufacturing will not only affect white-collar and knowledge-worker jobs, but it will also have significant repercussions for blue-collar and physical-labor jobs. AI-powered quality tools already provide ongoing monitoring and generate alerts, optimizing production yield and reducing the necessity for multiple quality assurance positions.

A labor union representative engaging in negotiations with management over the implementation of AI technology in manufacturing, taken with a Sony Alpha a7 III

Goldman Sachs conducted an analysis earlier this year, indicating that Gen AI advancements could put up to 300,000 million jobs at risk worldwide due to automation. Manufacturing firms have already become early adopters of AI, and this trend is set to continue.

However, AI doesn't solely pose a threat. Ed Watal highlights that it can also address labor shortages in the country. According to the National Association of Manufacturer's survey, 72% of manufacturers stated that their top challenge was attracting and retaining employees. AI can bridge this gap, becoming a tool that aids manufacturing firms in overcoming their staffing challenges.

As labor unions representing blue-collar workers become increasingly aware of the impact of AI, negotiations around the technology's implementation are likely to arise, similar to what was seen in Hollywood actors and writers strikes earlier this year.