The new year begins with thoughts of new technology, and we wonder about how these technologies will impact or shape our lives – for better or worse. To be specific, robots for manufacturing are coming or are already here. Let me share some thoughts from a variety of expert sources to provide perspective.
The “robot revolution” can be thought of as the fourth industrial revolution after steam (cotton gin), mass production (Henry Ford) and electronics. As in the past, these changes cause some of us to wonder if robots will take over our jobs. If we consider the previous three revolutions, it’s safe to say this did happen in limited cases, but it also brought new jobs and new opportunities.
Similar to the fourth industrial revolution, FORTUNE magazine characterized what we are experiencing as the fourth turning point. The first turning point in the 19th century shifted production from small artisanal shops to big, more-efficient factories, which devalued the skills of artisans. In fact, this was the beginning of trying to get humans to act more like machines. For the past 10 generations, we have had successes by learning to do machine work better than machines could do it.
This mindset continued into the second turning point, which demanded more highly skilled and educated workers as technology advanced in the 20th century. The third turning point saw middle-skill workers lose jobs as their activities were more easily replaced by computers. Essentially, they were no longer able to perform their activities better than the computers that replaced them.
In this fourth turning point, demand for cognitive skills seems to be slowing while interpersonal skills are increasingly in demand. The paradigm of doing machine work better than the machines has come to an end because machines are performing some activities better than we ever could. Let’s look at what that means for workers in the fourth industrial revolution.
To succeed, what we need to do in the future is stop trying to be better than the machines and begin acting more like humans. FORTUNE indicates that we can remain valuable by doing jobs that people will insist be performed by humans.
- Humans will remain in charge.
- Humans must work together to set collective goals.
- Only humans can satisfy deep interpersonal needs.
- According to Meg Bear, Oracle group vice president, “Empathy is the critical 21st-century skill.”
You will notice that I have been using the term “activities” rather than jobs because a recent McKinsey report indicated that very few occupations will be automated in their entirety. Rather, certain activities are more likely to be automated, requiring the transformation of entire business processes. The report discussed the four fundamentals of workplace automation.
- The automation of activities: It is estimated that 45% of work activities could be automated with another 13% at risk as automation develops.
- The redefinition of jobs and business processes: The report indicated that fewer than 5% of occupations could be entirely automated, but 60% of occupations could have more than 30% of their activities automated.
- The impact on high-wage occupations: The report finds that even high-wage earners (CEOs, doctors) will find a portion of their activities at risk for automation.
- The future of creativity and meaning: As automation replaces the more mundane tasks, people will have more time to help people.
In 2016, Industrial Heating is emphasizing meaningful human interactions by creating an executive committee. We have always seen our role as relational, connecting needs with those willing to meet them and helping individuals to be able to be more successful. On a quarterly basis, the executive committee will discuss market conditions, industry news, upcoming shows/events and topics that will keep a pulse on the industry. It will allow Industrial Heating to regularly meet with key industry executives to establish relationships that will enhance everyone’s work experience.
We don’t see the executive committee as a response to automation, but how the industry responds to the fourth turning point may well be a discussion item. And the relationships we establish will help us all to succeed in the 21st century.