It's risky to use history as a basis for predicting how the 2016 presidential election cycle will play out. At least, it's been a wholly unreliable indicator so far. Who could have foreseen that the campaigns of the perceived front-runners (Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush) would have been so fundamentally derailed by two so-called anti-establishment candidates: an extreme proponent of democratic socialism and a reality TV star who, in large part, has turned the entire race into pretty much a new reality TV show of his own.
It's probably no surprise that the campaign rhetoric, too, has veered off in unexpected directions. We've all heard about proposals to build border walls and make other countries pay for them, an all-new "birther" debate (because the first one wasn't stupid enough), and a host of other issues that distract the candidates and voters from more important issues—like jobs.
Typically, jobs creation would be at the tip of a presidential candidate's campaign spear. Not this year, though. You can add that to the list of things that are wrong with this year's election cycle and by extension, we guess, with the current crop of candidates.
Make no mistake, despite the happy talk, the nation continues to struggle with unemployment. Even as the official unemployment rate has ticked down (dropping to 4.9 percent from 7.8 percent over the current administration's term), other metrics point to a worsening situation. Take the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) labor participation rate, for example. In January 2009, according to the BLS, nearly 66 percent of able-to-work Americans aged 16 years or older were working. As of January 2016, that number had dropped to 62.7 percent.
This news comes at a time of great uncertainty about the future of the job market. As detailed in a recent report by DC Velocity Senior Editor Ben Ames, the logistics industry—and specifically, the material handling sector of logistics—is moving rapidly to integrate robotics into its operations. As Ben noted in his report, "Businesses are buying robots for warehouse and distribution center applications at a faster pace than ever, helping push robot orders and shipments in North America to record levels in 2015. ... Material handling applications helped drive that demand with a 24-percent increase in orders over 2014, second only to coating and dispensing applications, which saw a 49-percent year-over-year increase."
You might expect at this point to hear the usual lament about technology killing off jobs. But that's not where we're going here. The introduction of robots doesn't always mean displacing human employees. A number of companies right here in the logistics and supply chain world have proved that point.
Back in 2012, for instance, Crown Equipment Corp. installed 50 welding robots in its manufacturing operations. The move didn't result in a round of layoffs, however. Instead, the lift truck maker retrained the affected employees and shifted them to new jobs.
Similar scenarios played out over at MCFA (Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America) and Toyota Material Handling, USA. MCFA automated its painting process and brought robotic welders and metal-cutters to its manufacturing line, while Toyota introduced automated guided vehicles. Neither move resulted in a flurry of pink slips. Like Crown, these companies simply retrained and reassigned workers to new positions.
These are but three examples, and there are plenty more. Robotic technology is now a proven means of boosting productivity. Higher productivity typically leads to higher profit margins, which allows companies to expand their operations and add more jobs. In short, productivity means growth, and growth means jobs.
Maybe someone should make that the focus of his or her campaign.