Robots Ride to the Rescue Where Workers Can’t Be Found

PRAGUE — When Zbynek Frolik needed completely new employees to handle surging orders at his cavernous factories in central Bohemia, he fanned advertisements across the Czech Republic. although in a prosperous economy where nearly everyone had work, there were few takers.

Raising wages didn’t help. Nor did offers to subsidize housing.

So he turned to the robots.

“We can’t find enough humans,” said Mr. Frolik, whose company, Linet, makes state-of-the art hospital beds sold in over 100 countries. “We’re trying to replace people with machines wherever we can.”

Such talk usually conjures visions of a future where employees are no longer needed. In many major economies, companies are experimenting with replacing factory workers, truck drivers in addition to also even lawyers with artificial intelligence, raising the specter of a mass displacement of jobs.

although in Eastern Europe, robots are being enlisted as the solution for a shortage of workers. Often they are helping to create completely new types of jobs as businesses inside Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia in addition to also Poland try to stay agile in addition to also competitive. Growth in these countries, which became low-cost manufacturing hubs for Europe after the fall of Communism, has averaged 5 percent in recent years, buoyed by the global recovery.

Few are riding higher than the Czech Republic, where plants roll out cars for the likes of Toyota in addition to also consumer electronics for Dell, while smaller companies produce specialty goods to sell around the earth. A roaring economy has slashed the jobless rate to just 2.4 percent, the lowest inside European Union.

The dearth of manpower, however, has limited the ability of Czech companies to expand. Nearly a third of them have commenced to turn away orders, according to the Czech Confederation of Industry, a trade group.

“This kind of’s becoming a brake on growth,” said Jaroslav Hanak, the organization’s president. “If businesses don’t increase robotization in addition to also artificial intelligence, they’ll disappear.”

“A labor shortage will continue for years,” said Bohdan Dovhanic, a Prague-based business director at Schneider Electric, a French industrial company. “We must be prepared to find more human employees, or find a way to substitute for them.”

To keep up that has a surge in orders driven by the global recovery, he needs more people. He raised wages 12 percent last year in addition to also tried to poach employees by different factories, although This kind of wasn’t enough, in addition to also he didn’t develop the production capacity to bid on major government contracts.

“We could be growing much more,” Mr. Frolik said.

So he put in an €8 million order last month for superfast robotic lasers in addition to also plastic molding machines to replace older products. The completely new devices will let him move six workers to the custom assembly line. although with different Czech companies also scrambling to upgrade, he’ll have to wait for delivery of the machines.

Mr. Frolik stopped before a hulking industrial laser in which would likely eventually be replaced by a faster, smarter machine. The two employees operating This kind of would likely be educated for different work at the factory inside the old cow barn, which has been converted into a training center.

“We’ll still need people,” Mr. Frolik said. “although robots are more reliable.”

Hana de Goeij contributed reporting.