business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Excellent piece in the Washington Post that challenges some of the assumptions about the use of robotic technology in the workplace - namely, that robots are being used because they don’t get sick, don’t join unions, don’t need a lunch break, and can replace human beings who can and often will do all of those things. Conventional wisdom is that the employers who use robots are as heartless as the robots they are bringing into the workplace.

But it may not be that simple, as the story frames the situation this way:

“In factory after American factory, the surrender of the industrial age to the age of automation continues at a record pace. The transformation is decades along, its primary reasons well-established: a search for cost-cutting and efficiency.

“But as one factory in Wisconsin is showing, the forces driving automation can evolve — for reasons having to do with the condition of the American workforce. The robots were coming in not to replace humans, and not just as a way to modernize, but also because reliable humans had become so hard to find. It was part of a labor shortage spreading across America, one that economists said is stemming from so many things at once. A low unemployment rate. The retirement of baby boomers. A younger generation that doesn’t want factory jobs. And, more and more, a workforce in declining health: because of alcohol, because of despair and depression, because of a spike in the use of opioids and other drugs.

In earlier decades, companies would have responded to such a shortage by either giving up on expansion hopes or boosting wages until they filled their positions. But now, they had another option…”

This story is Eye-Opening in its detail, sharply observed and worth reading here.
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