By Roy Keidar | Inside 3DP
In a recently published paper, Professor Michael Spence, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, argued that the combination of 3D printing technology and robotics has the potential to dramatically impact the labor market.
According to Spence, “with digital capital-intensive technology… production will inevitably move toward the final market, wherever it is. This re-localization constitutes a major shift in the structure of global supply networks… As the costs of this technology decline, it is easy to imagine that production will become extremely local and customized. Moreover, production may occur in response to actual demand, not anticipated or forecast demand. In some sense, this represents the ultimate compression of supply chains, as firms produce to final demand with minimal delay.”
This observation should be taken seriously by policy makers all over the world. The observation is timely because many governments are struggling to keep unemployment rates low while constantly looking to stay competitive in the global market.
The notion that machines are replacing human beings is not new. It constituted the main source of anxiety during the first industrial revolution in the 19th century, and continued to be a cause for concern during the second industrial revolution in the early part of the 20th century.
In both cases, we can see – with the benefit of hindsight – that societies adjusted to the new reality: while some jobs were lost, others were created. Importantly, however, those countries were able to rapidly adapt to the emerging trends of the respective periods and gained significantly more than the ones that struggled to keep up.
3D printers, alongside with other tools that enable digital manufacturing, require such rapid adaptation today. Their versatility is hard to grapple with. One can find 3D printing technology in almost every industry: medicine, housing, fashion, food, toys, shipping, aviation, and many more.
The demand for customized products is rising and thus more people turn to 3D printers. The attempt to reduce shipping costs and the global rise in online shopping has made 3D printers the ideal technology for many.
These trends will gradually have a massive effect on the labor market. On the one hand, the world of digital fabrication gives a premium for innovation, ideas, design, and the ability to master the use of sophisticated machines.
On the other hand, the more traditional jobs associated with goods and services will become less attractive. Thus, the jobs of the future (or even the present) require new sets of skills and proficiency. Designers, machinery technicians, engineers, computer software programmers, online marketers, and other related professions will become even more valuable and this is where government’s emphasis should be given.
For the government to effectively harness these trends in creating a more competitive job market, it must adopt a systemic approach. Training should start at early ages with the goal of making digital fabrication technology accessible to all.
Kids should be taught the basic skills needed and become acquainted with the technology. Youth and adults should experience the quick turn-around of going from idea to product: allowing them to design, produce, test, and redesign until they are satisfied with the final outcome. Entrepreneurs should use the technology for developing prototypes and testing the market up to the point in which they can go commercial.
The bottom line is that 3D printing is relevant for everyone, and everyone should have access to it.
In today’s world, with increasingly rapid pace of change, learning and adaptation are essential. Many workers who cannot learn and adapt to this new technology will ultimately lag behind and eventually lose their relevance in the market. Governments’ ability to read the global trend and quickly develop proper training will become vital for keeping unemployment rates reasonable. In that regard there is no question in my mind that the 3D printing industry is one to keep an eye on.
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