Future Friday: Robots in the workplace is not all doom and gloom

Some robots will allow manufacturing to return to America, thus creating jobs.
Some robots will allow manufacturing to return to America, thus creating jobs.

We have read, and I have written about, the coming wave of robotic workers displacing human workers. The unfortunate truth is that this is not going to go away. Many workers, including those in the C-suite, may be replaced by robots if they do routine, repetitive work. Much of HR is included in that prognostication. However, there may be a bright side to this story.

Bringing manufacturing back

Much of the early loss of jobs in America was due to the abundant cheap labor overseas. Most of this job loss occurred in manufacturing of goods, from textiles to steel. However, according to entrepreneur and author Martin Ford in his book Rise of the Robots, we are starting to see manufacturing coming back to America. The advent of robots being able to perform cheap labor and the rising price of labor in other countries provides opportunities to bring manufacturing back to the US. Granted, the sheer number of manufacturing jobs will not come back, but some humans will be needed. Additionally, businesses that supply those manufacturing firms will also create new jobs.
With the reduced cost of manufacturing by robotics and the closer proximity to their markets those new manufacturing firms will have a much greater chance of success of competing than they had prior to robotics.

However, the future may be different

The good news is that manufacturing jobs may be coming back. The bad news is that those jobs created will be for a limited window. While the state of robotics currently requires some human intervention, eventually even those jobs will be taken over by robots. So people need to be prepared to take advantage of the window of job opportunities but they need to also be prepared for the disappearance of those opportunities. HR professionals in these manufacturing situations need to be foresightful and watch for ways to switch the people from position to position. The key talent competencies in these firms may be flexibility and quick learning.

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