Robots may or may not take over in the workplace, but Human Resources departments are already debating how to deal with them. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests that one of HR’s new requirements will be to persuade employees to develop skills in robotics.
HR departments can’t be expected to manage and motivate robots as they do human workers. In fact, not having to motivate robots is one of the big advantages of robotic workers. But robots don’t just show up for work and start right in being productive. Human operators are an essential component of any automation plan. That means that human workers have to learn the skills involved in operating robots, as well as choosing, commissioning, maintaining, and perhaps even programming them.
Happy workers, happy robots?
One of the biggest challenges to workplaces is creating a cohesive work environment where both humans and robots can thrive. It’s not just a question of maintaining an ambient temperature that meets the needs of machines and humans alike.
Human workers need to believe that robots aren’t after their jobs. The standard claim is that robots will take on the dirty, dull, and dangerous jobs, leaving more creative work for human beings. This is a standard claim because it’s true: for most workers, automation will improve jobs rather than eliminating them. But workers who don’t believe this may end up sabotaging automation in their workplaces, whether in overt ways or just by resisting change.
HR is the logical group to take point on this educational and motivational challenge.
What to do with the people
Other challenges include training employees to work alongside robots, developing policies around robot use, and managing potential safety issues.
Automation can require more STEM skills than current employees possess. Offering training is an important step toward keeping human workers employed. But moving along the path to Industry 4.0 may require ongoing training and some level of dedication to continued learning.
While there are some challenges associated with robots in the workplace, HR departments are also seeing benefits, such as increased productivity and greater worker safety.