Automation, digitalization, and changes in occupational structures in the automobile industry in Germany, Japan, and the United States: a brief history from the early 1990s until 2018
Managing flexible automation
Industrial and Corporate Change, 2021, vol. 30, issue 3, 499-535
A major concern in the current public discussion is rapidly accelerating automation and in particular the use of robots. Many experts and researchers see it as a driver of employment losses hitting in particular so called routine jobs. The present study challenges this perspective. It examines two central questions: First, what approaches to automation and digitalization have been pursued in the automotive industry in Germany, Japan, and the United States? Second, how have employment and its occupational composition in the automotive industry developed in the three countries? The first part of the study focuses on the evolution of automation and digitalization approaches in the automotive industry from the early 1990s until today. It combines a qualitative analysis of press articles and a quantitative evaluation of the development of the stock of industrial robots from 1993 to 2018 based on the statistics of the International Federation of Robotics. The second part of the study focuses on the change in employment structures using occupational statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (US), the Federal Employment Agency (Germany), and the Statistics Bureau of Japan. The results of the study question the perception of an automation-related threat to employment and especially to production employment. At the same time, they highlight differences between automation and digitalization approaches in Germany, Japan, and the United States as well as different paths of change in employment structures.
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