The Factory of the future will have Two Employees

robot

Robots at my door

Scott Dennis-New York

8/22/2016

“The factory of the future will have two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.” -Warren G. Bennis

Having been in the position to hire and fire employees, I have always wanted to judge my own career by the amount of new jobs created to help people support their families. A loss of a job through firing, lay off or just the churn of employees finding new opportunities are disruptive to a person’s life but are part of the normal cycle of the capitalist market place. What happens when this equilibrium between labor and employer comes out of balance? This is what the world is facing in the form of ever-more sophisticated technology. The reality of this Pandora’s Box is affecting your families and friends and employers themselves are now realizing that they cannot control it.

“How can median incomes decrease in countries with gross domestic product and over-all productivity sky rocketing?”

Robots are not waking up with the goal of taking your job, at least not yet. The transition of workers lives in the late 19th and 20th century has seen the standard of living increase in countries embracing technology, labor has generally been made far more productive with income levels creating a healthy middle class in the modernized world.  However the relentless drive toward optimization in the private sector today are using robots to move the cost of labor into the profit margin on a dramatic scale. Even in environments with strong unionized workers, such as the auto industry and longshoremen on the waterfront in America, new technology that has already been seen displacing workers globally is on pace to cut down the need for human assets in blue collar sectors in American cities with ports and heavy industry. In my career I have witnessed the future of a dock workers life as I compared the amount of longshoremen working the Port of Newark or Oakland compared to the relative quiet of a new container terminal in Amsterdam where robots move cargo without the need for their human counterparts, doing away with their wages, pensions and liabilities.

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If you do not know anyone in heavy industry perhaps you believe that this wave of technology is someone else’s problem. The World Economic Forum suggests that in the short term over five million jobs in the administration field such as accountants, sales people and an array of positions in healthcare will be affected. This challenge that labor is facing differs greatly from globalization in that when a country loses a factory to an overseas competitor, people somewhere are getting the work albeit at a lower relative wage. Jobs lost to robotics force labor not to just another job but another occupation since the function of their position is eliminated completely from the market. These shifts due to technology have a number of secondary effects such as income inequality which has become more acute as economic growth continues in an upwards trend with a perverse downward trend in employment. How can median incomes decrease in countries with gross domestic product and over-all productivity sky rocketing? These paradoxes are being created by a third force wedged between labor and employer, robotics and technology and its applications will soon be out of the control of white collar managers. There is a great need for creative strategies  from sectors spanning from technology to faith leaders to offer some positive options for workers that policy makers can carve into legislation.

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Scott Dennis has had a twenty year career in transportation and labor negotiation and is also the founder of Blue Collar Think Tank. scottdennis@bluecollarthinktank.com @bcthinktank

Robot Image courtesy of ShutterStock

 

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