According to a recent report by the United Nations, nearly one-third of all jobs in first-world countries will be lost to automation over the next 15 years. Even if the report fall short in its predictions, there is little doubt that millions, maybe billions, of people will be affected by automation. Workers in a wide range of industries are already in the crosshairs. So, what are the ethical and policy impacts of automation and unemployment?
The introduction of new automation changes the entire business model and can affect all aspects of enterprise operations. Craig Salvalaggio, VP of Applied Manufacturing Technologies notes that companies can reduce the friction of new technology deployment by using collaborative approaches that can produce an abundance of opportunities for the existing workforce. He notes that the solution involves a number of strategies, including, gaining buy-in from the company’s workforce, making the new technology familiar, repositioning the workforce infrastructure, and creating retraining programs.
Salvalaggio will discuss these strategies in the session, Leading the Change: Digital Transformation & the Workforce of the Future, at the Pacific Design and Manufacturing show in Anaheim on Feb. 5.
How to Win Buy-In from Your Workforce
The way companies introduce new technology will affect whether the workforce will adopt the technology successfully. “When companies decide to automate their factories, they’re looking to increase productivity, increase flexibility, and reposition labor to add more value. A lot of the time it’s the approach the company takes that affects the acceptance of those changes,” said Salvalaggio. “Some companies bring folks in and ask for their opinions. They try to get the buy-in up front so the team won’t reject the automation.”
Without acceptance and enthusiasm from the workforce, the deployment can be a disaster. “If the labor force doesn’t accept the automation, they won’t use it,” said Salvalaggio. “Companies need to ensure the team that uses the technology will accept the automation.”
A Familiar Look and a Repositioned Infrastructure
According to Salvalaggio, companies need to address critical technology gaps to ensure automation and business processes are collaborative. The old technology needs to interact successfully with the new technology. “Sometimes the new technology doesn’t talk well to the old technology, which makes the technologies become complicated. So, integrators have to look for ease-of-use,” said Salvalaggio. “They would also be wise to build in similar workflows so they’re seeing similar data presentation. The familiar look will lead the workforce to buy-in.”
The next step is building an organization that supports collaboration between those running the automation and those running the new technology. “Once you get the buy-in and you have the technology ready, then you have to create a workforce infrastructure. You need to assemble a team to run the new technology,” said Salvalaggio. “Then you have to create a workforce organization that allows the automation team to work effectively with the technology team.”
Creating Retraining Programs
Retraining the workforce is part of the transition to new technology. “I call it unlearning learned behavior. They’ve done it a certain way for many years, and they’re not interested in changing,” said Salvalaggio. “They should understand the reason for the change. Give them the information they need, such as what is the company trying to do, which is to be more profitable and gain market share.”
Education and retraining is part of process of deploying new technology. “You have to get more from each piece of equipment, and you get it through education and ensuring everyone who uses the equipment is trained even if they don’t have an engineering degree,” said Salvalaggio. “You need tech training programs that are successful. You need training programs to get your operators to the next level and maybe even become programmers.”
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.
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