Does your Succession Plan include Robots?

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My blog is inspired by a couple of articles that I read about robots taking on new “jobs.” One story was related to Amazon.com “Army of robots to invade Amazon warehouses” and the another one that caught my attention was “Robots will replace fast-food workers.” Now I love tech. I love scifi. I love robots. I’m a geek at heart, so I’ve been really musing over this the last few days. I figure I could share with you some of my commentary here on what this could mean — its not an episode of the Jetsons, this stuff is happening now. It may not be in your industry yet — and that’s the operative word – yet.  Here are a few things that ‘made me go, hmmm.”

It Is Really Cheaper?

First, if this is something that your company is considering I think that one thing you have to ask yourself is, “What does it mean to your company’s bottom line?”  I do think that there is a trade-off. Machines and technology come with a big price tag. They offer the chance may be more accurate, they don’t talk back, they don’t give attitude,  longer runtimes, working weekends and holidays. (aside:  Or do they? Ever had a computer that has a case of the Mondays — all. week. So, don’t completely rule out the downtime factor.) That price includes the cost of the technology as well as the cost to maintain it — and don’t forget upgrades. In light of some of these considerations am not entirely convinced that robots mean always equates to “cheaper.” Please do not confuse that with “streamlined” or more “process-efficiency” since generally, technology solutions generally do offer an increase these areas.  Its good to know the whole picture and ask the right questions. For me, it was important to know that its not just “costs” that may be driving this shift — it may be part of the picture, but not all of it.

That Robot Took My Job! …but maybe I Get a Better One

Now for those who might be outplaced by automation (that sounds better than robot right?), I think first we have to consider WHAT kinds of jobs a might lend themselves to this. In the articles, they mention logistics (amazon.com) and fast food — logistics has been doing this for years, as have many banks — but fast food might be newer to the game. I could totally see my burger, fries, sandwiches made my machines (and frozen foods often are — ever watch and episode of “How Its Made?).  So what jobs are likely not to be replaced by a robot or machine — customer service, diagnostics, positions that require some cognition and/or strategy. I think that if anything, more automation, computers, robots would allow for a more jobs or opportunity — however, it will be at a different level.  Someone has to configure and envision the systems, implement it, troubleshoot, etc. … and someone has to deal with the people side of things. Sometimes you’re okay with speaking to an automated system, but when you want a person, you want to talk to a person — you can’t automate *everything* (IMHO).  Some jobs might come off the table, but others should come on.

Is This Really about Robots or About Skills

I am may not be popular for thinking this way (who am I kidding, I’m not really all that popular)– but I think that we need to be talking more about skills and training. I’m not an T&D (talent and development) specialist — I wish I were, but I’ve found that I’m really passionate about this area. As HR professionals we can’t boil the ocean. We can’t solve for all the factors (skills and learnings) that people bring to the table. However, what we CAN do it once people are at the table, put proper means to help grow and develop them to the next level. Find those that are ambitious and have a great attitude — and develop them.  It cost money, time, and resources to develop — but I think its an important line item for us all to consider and get creative on.   So I know that I’m taking a *very* complicated issue and oversimplifying it here.. but the thought I am left with… well its more of a question that I’m left with, — how do we get develop and get the skills for the jobs that will in demand when the ‘robots come.’ Well I guess I have two questions, then, because the next one is, “As an HR pro, what is my role and how can I help?”

I don’t have the answers — but I think its worth a few minutes for as HR professionals to think about — even at the highest of levels.What do you think and what questions would you have? What do you think HR’s role is, if any?

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