Everyone that ascribes to a dystopian future sees a world where people are removed from their jobs by robots. Quite a number of futurist writers, including myself (here and here), have envisioned a future where workers will be displaced from their current jobs by automation. Some have predicted wholesale unemployment, described as technological unemployment, with workers having to be supported by the state. Fortunately for many workers in the future, there is a glimpse today of how companies can advance technology without displacing workers and in fact actually increase the size of the workforce.
No water displacement
Water displacement normally means something put in water changing the water level, but in this case, it is a story of a water company that did not displace workers when the company improved their technology.
In a story, Mary Mazzoni, an editor, and writer for the website TriplePundit tells of the work of Evian, the French bottled water giant. Evian, unlike most bottled water companies, gets their water from a single source in the French Alps. The water takes a 15-year journey filtering through the mountains, which means it is always running. To modernize the plant and comply with European carbon footprint regulations they had to make sure they could keep the plant running while updating equipment. They undertook a massive renovation while maintaining their current workforce.
Required people to learn new jobs
In the effort, according to a V.P. quoted by Mazzoni, 600 of 1,200 were modified. To accomplish this Evian offered 30,000 hours of training in order to retain its workforce. According to Mazzoni:
Managers held weekly working groups to discuss changes at each level of the assembly line, and employees learned new skills to adapt to these changes. Former forklift drivers, for example, were transitioned to technician roles and trained to remotely operate automated shuttles. At the time of the plant’s opening, not only did Evian maintain its team, but it also added 200 new jobs.
Did you read that last part? Evian also “added 200 new jobs.” Unlike many American companies that bring technology in and replace workers, Evian brought technology in and taught people how to work with the technology to help retain their loyal workforce, and as a result was getting so much productivity they had to hire more workers.
Team effort and right attitude
The project required “buy-in” from the employees and their labor unions. Evian worked with the entire community to support the effort. “It really shows what you can achieve when the people are part of the project,” Véronique Penchienati, president of Evian, told Mazzoni. “It was not a project of the plant director or the boss, but it was a project of all of the employees.”
The lesson for the future
Companies in the future do not have to engage in wholesale replacement of employees with technology. With forethought, effort and a willingness to train workers, we can improve our companies, adapt and adopt technology, and still retain or workers. There does not need to be breadlines on the streets of the world due to robots if companies work towards this type of solution.