Two hundred years ago, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin brought mass production to plantation fields. In the late 1800’s, Andrew Carnegie’s redesigned facilities introduced the latest manufacturing strategies of conveyors, pulleys, and streamlined production tactics. Fast forward to the 1980s: Steven Jobs’ dream to put computers on every desktop revolutionized the way people worked and lived. Did these major changes eliminate jobs? Yup. Were these men loved by everyone? Nope. But automation is an inevitable and necessary part of doing business.
Sure, part of the management game is to protect employees’ jobs…but the other part is to eliminate them when they impede growth and choke off competitive edge. The cotton gin, the assembly line, and the computer replaced labor-intensive jobs with less physically-taxing work. Also, automation created more opportunities in the forms of higher output per person, increased speed of products and services to market, and standardized, improved quality of products being offered to consumers (when done right).
Some may argue that not all advancements are positive. Consider the accidents that occurred in sweatshops during the Industrial Revolution. Consider, too, that many of those accidents occurred due to poor management, abuse of workers, and misuse of equipment. Automation alone, without the backing of brainpower and good judgement, is not effective.
On the other hand, imagine running a construction firm armed with 100 men and a cartload of shovels. Could you possibly compete against a firm using today’s earthmovers? You couldn’t even afford your Workers’ Comp bill.
Squeamish about the whole job-elimination thing? Try reverting to a completely non-automated office and use only a paper system. All accounting and operational functions are recorded and transacted without the use of anything automated. How many employees would you need? Could your firm afford to pay each employee what they need to support a family? Progression isn’t the enemy; regression and primitiveness are.
Now, don’t go overboard. If you’re an upscale restaurant, you probably still need your waiters and waitresses. However, you need also need to be able to track inventories, capture orders quickly, and process administrative functions, in ways that create sustainable advantages in the marketplace. Those who don’t make the shift will suffer with government red tape, OSHA compliance, and the costly disadvantage of having employees where they are not needed.
So where and how do you build your automation advantage?
No apologies. The type of work available is constantly changing, and it’s your job to be thinking about what the future can be. Yes, advancements will require new skills. Some will adapt, and others will have difficulties, especially if the changes require people to re-educate themselves. But automation is not the enemy, it is your speedboat away from a possible sinking ship. Be on the lookout so that you’re one of the survivors.
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