8 Careers in Robotics: Jobs Working With Robots
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Robots sense, think, and act automatically. Some learn from humans, and some bots even teach themselves. Boston Consulting Group estimates that the global robotics market will increase by up to $235 billion by 2030, including service robots and "cobots" — collaborative robots, which support workers by taking on repetitive, time-consuming, or dangerous tasks.
Lately, the pandemic has worsened a skilled labor shortage. Robots can fill an important role in accelerating manufacturing and construction while promoting humans to roles in oversight, programming, and quality assurance.
This article lists jobs involving robotics and identifies automation trends influencing the tech and trades workforce.
8 Jobs Involving Robots
These trades use robots, and they can be lucrative careers. Unless otherwise noted, we used U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data to list salary and job growth.
- Job growth: 11%
- Average salary: $107,260
- Required education: Bachelor's degree and on-the-job experience in building trades
Construction managers and general contractors oversee construction projects and every worker on the project. Robots can lift heavy loads and climb tall structures, activities that could get people injured.
"Roofing is notorious because of how dangerous it is," Thomas Jepson, construction company Passion Plans CEO, said. "Cobots will hopefully help curb the trend and have fewer sad stories of people falling off houses."
- Job growth: 7%
- Average salary: $95,560
- Required education: Bachelor's degree or an associate of applied science
How do you create a robot with the agility of a human hand? How do you make them avoid obstacles while moving across the shop floor? A mechanical engineer answers these questions. They design the physical parts and systems that make robots work.
The robotics industry needs all types of engineers. Electrical engineers figure out how robots connect to and use power. Software engineers design the computing systems that make robots run. Most engineering roles require a bachelor-level degree or higher.
- Average salary: $76,810 (farm managers)
- Projected growth: -1%
- Required education: You don't need postsecondary education to become a farmer, but many farm operators have degrees in agriculture or business.
You might not think of farming as a robotics career. But today, farm owners and operators use automated technology in nearly every aspect of agriculture.
As some examples:
- Row crop growers use driverless tractors to treat the soil.
- Dairy farmers use robotics in cow milking operations.
- Farmers, agronomists, and other jobs working with plants use robots in fields to find and fend off weeds or diseases.
- Average salary: $61,680, according to RoboticsCareer.org
- Projected growth: 6% (Data for mechanical engineering technician)
- Required education: Varies, including apprenticeships, bootcamps, certificates, and associate degrees.
Robotics technicians assist engineers. They work on electrical systems, mechanical systems, or software. In the manufacturing industry, they're in high demand.
Lisa Masciantonio, Chief Workforce Officer of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute focuses on preparing people for positions in robotics. She says the biggest gaps in the workforce are at the robotic technician level.
Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) Tool Programmer
- Average salary: $61,010
- Projected growth: 27%
- Required education: Certificate or on-the-job training
CNC workers use software to control industrial robots, like automated grinders and lathes.
There are many paths to becoming a CNC programmer. Some manufacturing companies provide CNC training to workers on the shop floor. Or, you can get paid while you learn about CNC tools by participating in an apprenticeship.
- Job growth: 9%
- Average salary: $51,510
- Required education: A diploma, certificate, or associate degree
Doctors commonly use robots to assist their vision or dexterity in the operating room and perform minimally invasive surgeries.
Because they assist medical teams, surgical technologists must be knowledgeable about robot-assisted surgery. Surgical technologists may set up surgical robots, troubleshoot issues, clean bots, and ensure they're in good working order.
- Average salary: $46,690
- Job growth: 8%
- Required education: Apprenticeship
Skilled welders program robotic arms to perform welds for manufacturing, including car and shipbuilding. Welders may boost their chances of getting a high-paying robot career in welding by earning a certified robotic arc welding (CRAW) certification.
There's a whole exciting world of robotic welding. The American Welding Society has hosted a student robotic welding competition where welding students and apprentices showcase their robotics skills to hiring managers and compete for a cash prize.
Industrial Painter, Coater, or Finisher
- Average salary: $42,140
- Projected growth: 7%
- Required education: On-the-job training
One manufacturing trend is using robots to apply finishes — paint, protective coats, or textures — to products. Human painters program, monitor, and even teach robots how to paint perfectly every time.
Robots can free up painters from spending all their time on the same parts, using repetitive, tiring motions. Now, they can set multiple robots and manage shop floors. So their job combines the craftsmanship of painting with opportunities to analyze and optimize the bots' performance.
How to Get a Robotics Career
We asked our experts for their advice on breaking into this growing field. Here are some of their tips:
"It is really hard to become a successful robotic welding programmer if you’re not a good welder," Derek DeGeest said. DeGeest serves as president over DeGeest Steel Works, Co. and LestaUSA, a self-learning robotics company.
Working in the trades requires constantly learning about technology to improve your craft and chances of moving up in your career. That includes automation.
Maybe you’re already working on a manufacturing shop floor. Your employer might want to train you for a job working with robots — it’s good for their business, too.
DeGeest recommends asking your employer if the company is considering adding robotics, if they offer on-the-job training, or if they’d subsidize your training elsewhere.
Thanks to the ARM Institute’s searchable inventory of training programs at RoboticsCareer.org, you can find many local options. Select from high school programs, vocational and trade schools, community colleges, four-year degrees, and programs endorsed by the ARM Institute.
"We don’t want to be prescriptive about degree type," Masciantonio said, "It comes down to qualifications and core skill sets."
If you decide to get a degree or formal certificate, foundations and companies offer scholarships for people pursuing STEM careers and careers in robotics.
Read our take on how the top job sites measure up or head straight to the Association for Advanced Automation’s Career Center, where you can search for robot careers.
How robots impact the workforce
"If the task is dirty, dull, or dangerous — if it’s something a human could be injured doing — those are good signs robots could do the job instead," Masciantonio said.
In the medical and manufacturing trades, advanced automation makes work cleaner, safer, and more technologically advanced. Here’s how:
Sure, there's the rare social robot, which greets patients when it's unsafe for nursing teams to do so. But most robots are less humanoid and more practical.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and other frontline healthcare workers needed to protect themselves from the spread of coronavirus while providing tests and treatment to people in need. Medical teams used robots to solve this challenge.
Robots in healthcare settings:
- Disinfect environments
- Deliver personal protective equipment to patients and hospital staff
- Test for COVID-19
Robots have helped reduce lab techs' exposure to bodily samples and swabs, according to a report published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Beyond the pandemic, robots could be a mainstay.
Wildfires have devastated more land compared to recent decades, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and western states have seen the brunt of their impact. But robots could help firefighters fight back while reducing risk to themselves.
In 2020, Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) became the first fire department in the country to use a remote-operated robot to assist fire rescue. The device can blast water for 20 hours without having to refuel. LAFD has used the robot in urban settings so far and is training more operators.
Robots work across the supply chain, from warehouse robots that move inventory to ground delivery bots. But self-driving long-haul trucks won't become commonplace anytime soon. The Department of Transportation must conduct numerous safety tests over the years before you'll see automated vehicles used regularly, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
For now, "driverless" trucks still have a licensed trucker and sometimes an engineer on board. That's important because there's more to being a truck driver than driving alone. They secure cargo, inspect their trucks for maintenance issues, and ensure high levels of customer service.
And soon, more truckers may start working alongside cobots that use automated vision systems to help make truckers safer on the road.
Jobs Robots Can't Do
Automation is transforming nearly every industry. And robots are replacing tasks, but not humans. So, what can't robots do?
"When you need to make improvements or when you're making decisions that aren't repetitive, that's when you need people on the job," Masciantonio said.
Robots, even self-learning ones, automate tasks so humans can focus on improving processes — what DeGeest calls "turning jobs into careers."
Resources for Careers in Robotics
- Association for Advancing Automation (A3): Peruse robotics job openings on A3's career center. The site includes everything from entry-level technician roles to robot careers in advanced engineering and supporting roles at robotics companies, such as sales and accounting.
- The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute: The ARM Institute is a national consortium of industry, academia, and government partners. It is one of the 16 Manufacturing USA institutes funded by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy to create and deploy new technology. The ARM Institute focuses on equipping the workforce to work collaboratively with robots.
- RoboticsCareer.org: This site, powered by the ARM Institute, provides information about pathways in robotics careers. Use its searchable training database to find robot career training programs near you.
Meet the Robotic Career Experts
Thomas Jepsen is a housing expert, real estate investor, and CEO at Passion Plans. He has been working in the housing industry for the last 15 years. By helping make the house building process more efficient, Thomas is on a mission to improve the lack of affordable housing in the United States.
Lisa Masciantonio is the Chief Workforce Officer for the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute. Masciantonio is responsible for driving the Education & Workforce Development vision for ARM. Lisa received a bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University and two master's degrees from Carnegie Mellon University. She was selected as one of 20 worldwide Exceptional Women in Robotics and Automation by SME.
Derek DeGeest is the President of DeGeest Corporation, which has helped manufacturers solve problems since 1976 through their three service sectors of Steel Works, Finishing, and Automation. DeGeest now serves as President of LestaUSA. Derek is active in the community and is a vocal advocate for his industry, partnering with area technical colleges, high schools, and middle schools to encourage students to choose rewarding careers in manufacturing and to develop the skills needed to succeed. In 2019, Derek was named Small Business Administration (SBA) Small Business Person of the Year for South Dakota.
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