It might be easy at first pass to succumb to the belief that the labor shortage is just another platitude of the technocrats — how can the robots take all the jobs from workers if workers don’t occupy the jobs to begin with?
But the labor shortage isn’t just a talking point, it’s a meaningful problem in the American economy, strangling industries from farm to factory. Fruit is rotting on the vines in Salinas . Factory owners are turning to Facebook groups to find welders in South Bend. And project timelines in construction are getting stretched out by months in Austin.
Underlying the labor shortage is the reality that American workers are undertrained — this is particularly evident for high skill jobs like welding where workers are paid based on their ability to perform precision welds at high speed. Employers in some cases have taken to training workers themselves when they can’t find enough already trained. And salaries too are on the rise for more technical trade jobs. This is great news for workers but it leaves two key opportunities for technology:
- Increasing the efficiency of workers in high-skill jobs. Unlike machines and seeds, which have gotten much more productive over time to arguably justify increased costs, human farm workers have not kept pace.
- Making lower skill jobs more competitive with software and services. Up until now, lower-skill workers have not had access to the same income security, job benefits, and up-skill opportunities through training that their high-skill counterparts have had. Opportunity exists in democratizing these elements to improve worker retention and reduce the time it takes to fill open roles.
Looking across the economy, we’ve found opportunities to address the labor shortage in manufacturing, logistics, agriculture, and traditional services. Our thesis has led us to a number of exciting companies:
- Path Robotics, using robots to tackle the labor shortage in high-skill welding
- Ike Robotics, targeting the shortage of drivers in trucking
- FarmWise, using robots to address weeding in farm fields
- Workstream, using software to improve the hiring and management of hourly workers
FarmWise, for example, is already making good on our labor shortage thesis, and their progress recently brought in an additional $14.5 million from Calibrate Ventures. The company’s autonomous weeding robots leverage AI to detect plants and accurately pick weeds at high speed.
Just three years into the journey, FarmWise’s robots are monitoring and weeding land home to over 10 million plants. Moving forward, these robots will be able to take on more tasks, including input applications to individual plants, closing the loop on new plant-level health data.
We’re excited to be early investors in FarmWise and to support companies like these as they continue to grow. We remain bullish on solutions across industries that are allowing people to perform higher quality work, unconstrained by labor shortages.
Authored by John Mannes, investor at Basis Set Ventures