The U.S. is struggling with a labor shortage that is hobbling its economic recovery, but companies are not sitting still as they work to keep production up and running. As these job vacancies increase, they are turning to automation to pick up any slack. 

Orders for new robots have reached an all-time high in 2021. According to data from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a trade group for robotics firms, the total number of orders this year reached nearly 29,000. In total, this amounts to $1.48 billion in value with $513 million in the third quarter of 2021 alone. 

A3’s president Jeff Burnstein said in a press statement announcing the data that companies are turning to robotics as a way to contend with ongoing supply problems and labor shortages alike.

“With labor shortages throughout manufacturing, logistics and virtually every industry, companies of all sizes are increasingly turning to robotics and automation to stay productive and competitive,” said Burnstein.

Burnstein explained that the data showed how current users of robotics have expanded their use, but also identified a wider range of industries “such as automotive, agriculture, construction, electronics, food processing, life sciences, metalworking, warehousing and more.”

Automation has been regarded as a harbinger of a fourth industrial revolution where interconnected technologies would undergird much of economic production going forward. However, commentators from politicians to businessmen have warned that automation was the single biggest threat to jobs as more companies move toward adopting machines to do work previously done by people. 

This rising use of robotics by companies has taken place amidst what some economists are calling the “Great Resignation” which has seen millions of Americans decide to quit their jobs. 

Last Friday, the Department of Labor found that 164,000 more people resigned from their jobs in September, bringing the total to a record-high of 4.4 million. Many firms have been scrambling to hold on to employees as more people voluntarily leave their jobs because of the pandemic or being able to find better pay and benefits elsewhere.

Several surveys found that half of workers said the pandemic has given them more control in deciding the direction of their career while another half said they were planning to leave their jobs in search of better compensation and benefits.