TECHNOLOGY

Yes, the Robots Are Coming for Jobs. Here’s Why That Won’t Be as Scary as It Sounds

Robots and automation will create more opportunities than they will destroy.

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BY Jeffrey Phillips - 18 Jan 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There's been a lot of discussion and some fear mongering about robots and other automation solutions taking the jobs of workers. There are enough uncertainties on both sides of the discussion to encourage us to wait for more data, but a couple of signs indicate that both sides are correct in some of their predictions.

Some jobs are definitely going away, to be replaced by robots or automation. NPR carried an interesting story a few days ago about the introduction of robots in a furniture manufacturing plant in upstate New York. The bad news? A few jobs were eliminated. The good news? Most of those jobs were exceptionally dangerous, tedious, or simply jobs most people didn't want to do. The better news? The remaining workers found that in most cases they get to do more interesting and complex tasks, didn't have to execute dangerous or mundane tasks, and in many cases they earn more as well.

Seeing Both Sides

I'm not a technology Pollyanna, but also not a fatalist either. Robots are clearly here and clearly becoming a vital part of the workforce. A recent report demonstrated how quickly Amazon is adopting robots, mostly in their warehouse and distribution centers. Just a few years ago they had a couple thousand, and in 2017 were reporting using over 100,000 robots in use. That's real work, and there are good things and not so good things to say about that if your livelihood revolves around driving forklifts in warehouses.

We must quickly come to terms with the fact that robots and other automation solutions are here, and their use is growing. We can't stand athwart history and hold back the tide. Instead, we need to find innovative ways to use robots and automation to replace the most difficult, dangerous and monotonous tasks while providing training to everyone. Simply adjusting to robots and automation in the workforce will prove interesting, as more and more automated solutions emerge.

With Shifts Come Opportunities

But when shifts like these happen (and we are on the cusp of a big shift), opportunities emerge. Identifying new needs and new opportunities in organizations that implement robots and automation, defining new jobs and new skills that are required for people who work with or near robots and developing useful interfaces between people and robots are interesting, emerging opportunities that have few solutions to date. Rather than resist your robot co-worker, the real opportunity may be to understand the changes and emerging opportunities to help them fit in and work more effectively.

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