In the not so distant past, “factory automation” became a curse word of sorts for many workers, as they watched jobs in manufacturing plants dwindle as machine-led processes and auto-controlled devices on the shop room floor did the work instead of human workers. The idea was that machines in manufacturing settings could do the work with far fewer errors, and much faster, and they did not get injured or sick or even require lunch breaks or vacations. This caused a serious decrease in manufacturing employment and forced many individuals to start new careers, or to simply retire with few other realistic employment options. It can be argued either way as to the “benefits” of factory automation – some business owners claiming that their “overhead” for production fell considerably, with sociologists and economists pointing out that increased unemployment affected the economy negatively, including less purchases of items produced via factory automation.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the phrase “smart factories” began to be bandied about by tech-heads and industrial consultants and visionaries. “Smart” devices – machines and IT connected to the Internet via cabling or Wifi – now have the ability to monitor supplies and shipping/receiving schedules and environments within factories and on the shop floor to control productivity and to keep everything running smoothly without human error – often caused by distraction of one sort or another. Machines and computers don’t get distracted, that is.
Smart factories and this new wave of factory automation are causing labor experts and economists to wonder/worry about what these new systems and processes will do to the world of manufacturing employment. Will more and more individuals be put out of work by smart devices that remove the need for human involvement? Will these new technologies instead create new jobs for workers that don’t currently exist? From our perspective as a temp staffing agency that often works with manufacturers in need of extra workers, where will we be placing our employees in 20 years?
A new article on the CBS news website asks such questions about the rise of artificial intelligence in the workplace. Quoting that coverage, “Computers powered by artificial intelligence are smart enough to threaten a range of jobs, whether computers developing treatment plans for cancer patients or Amazon.com opening a grocery store without checkout lines. That impact is already being felt. The World Economic Forum expects automation, including AI, to result in the loss of at least 5 million jobs globally by 2020. In the view of Genpact (G) CEO NV “Tiger” Tyagarajan, however, the bigger question is how many jobs such technology will ultimately create.”
Certainly a complicated (and scary) idea with multiple angles to explore, we’re hoping that the future holds room for both AI/automation as well as humans who desire to work with their hands and labor physically. A world and economy that leaves no room for humans to work in blue-collar employment settings seems odd to us to say the least. You can read the entire CBS news article here.
While we wait to see how smart factories and AI play-out for the workforce, Flex-Team continues to offer tried and true “old-fashioned” temporary labor resources for your workforce needs. Please reach out to us here to learn how we may be of assistance to your business or company work-wise.