Humans Need to Get More Human to Stay Ahead of Automation

What will become of the human work force? We’re seeing an unprecedented level of automation in the workplace, and the forecast calls for more robots. Some people are throwing in the towel, accepting the fate of a worthless worker, and figuring out the logistics for a universal basic income to ensure that an unemployable human work force still has the means to survive. Others are brainstorming for ways to keep workers in the game. For many this means closing the skill gap and producing workers with more sophisticated and more valuable skill sets than the American worker traditionally possessed.

We can’t just focus on the tech side of things, however. Yes, knowing how to program, code, and work fluidly with technology is an important skill now and in the future, but we also have to emphasize the skills that are special to people. We can’t just lament a future where robots completely take jobs away from humans. Instead, we need better training and education, but we also have to get better at what separates man from machines.

The problem

Many of the relatively low-skill jobs people currently perform will likely be automated in the future. Repetitive tasks, service industry jobs, data entry, manual labor, and the boring, dangerous, or tedious types of work that are easily automated will most likely be done by machines. We already see evidence of this in manufacturing, and once it becomes practical and cost-effective to automate other jobs, we probably will.

Automation is cheaper, more efficient, more reliable, and faster than human labor. It keeps people out of danger, and it results in lower costs for consumers and higher profits for businesses.

Some experts suggest that replacing workers with machines in these low-skill areas this isn’t a bad thing. Garbage collectors, long-haul truckers, and customer service representatives don’t especially enjoy the work that they’re doing; they simply do it support themselves or their family, and because it needs doing. Automation opens the door for workers to pursue more meaningful, worthwhile types of work.

But what happens when we automate all of the low skill work, and workers aren’t trained or qualified to do the jobs that remain?

The solution

This is where people start talking about closing the skill gap. A skill gap is a shortage of workers who possess the knowledge, training, or skill to perform the jobs that are available. Educators and employers can help narrow skill gaps by educating the future work force for the jobs that will be available in the future, and by upskilling, or equipping and training current workers to carry out higher skill work.

However, it’s important that we don’t just set workers up for the same problem in the future. You don’t see droves of factory workers hitting the gym, training to out-lift and out-work the robotic arms that are gunning for their jobs. We don’t want to train workers to do things can’t be automated today, but may very well be automated tomorrow.

If we anticipate automated systems to self-monitor in the future, we shouldn’t just train current workers to oversee systems and make sure that everything is running smoothly. Instead, we have to make sure that we work on the the things that can’t be automated.

There are still types of work that do not lend themselves to automation and robotization. The type of work that requires a human skill set. Humans excel at things requiring curiosity, creativity, inventiveness, ingenuity, versatility, adaptability, and empathy. You can’t out-compute a machine, but a robot is no match for your emotional intelligence. Machines work faster and more reliably than people, but humans are far more versatile. People roll with the punches, and robots stop if something unexpected happens.

Education, training, and increasing skill of future workers is important, but we must also play to our strengths.

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We really don’t know what will happen with automation and human workers. You have experts on both sides of the aisle; some saying we’re doomed, and some saying we’ve got this. Whatever happens with human workers, your machinery will continue to be essential to your business. Make sure that you industrial motion control system is up for whatever comes your way.

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