Image credit: @scobleizer.
The cliché of row-upon-row of Chinese factory workers toiling to create machines for the West may soon be over, as those workers are increasingly replaced by machines themselves.
The FT reports:
The automation on display at this [Milo factory in Hong Kong] is emblematic of a new industrial revolution in China driven by the changing nature of the labour force: the three-decade-old one-child policy has led to a shortage of labour; competition for workers is so fierce that employers have had to dole out raises in the high teens annually to retain them; and many youngsters increasingly prefer working in China’s restaurants and stores to the tedium of making widgets. The labour shortage is likely to worsen because China is ageing fast. Less than 20 per cent of the population is under 14, down from almost a quarter a decade ago, according to the World Bank.
Foxconn chief Terry Gou has made clear his intention to replace a large portion of his one-million-strong Chinese workforce with robots in the near future. China will be the largest market in the world for automatons by 2014, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
Amongst many Chinese industrialists, the push for automation isn’t necessarily driven by a desire to increase profits, there simply aren’t enough human workers to go round:
Willy Lin, who owns Milo’s Knitwear, says the reason his Dongguan factory has just 150 workers is simple: “We couldn’t find any more.”
This problem is not just confined to Guangdong. In the southeastern province of Jiangxi where the company has another factory with 250 workers, the local Communist party secretary inquires every year what Mr Lin’s business needs.
“I say: ‘I need workers.’ The party official goes away and the other government officials say, ‘You are joking, right?’” says Mr Lin.