Value-added workers are essential with automation

Gloria Dunn-Violin is a professional speaker, preretirement seminar leader and author. She writes the North Bay Business Journal column New Retirement: A Paradigm Shift.


As innovations in technology such as robotics, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) become more prevalent inside our organizations, the fear of job loss and required training for upgraded skills is growing. But this is not the first time the business sector has faced challenges with unknown consequences.

Our history cites the ups and downs of business growth over the past decades, demonstrating that we have been in this threatened, automated space before. For instance, in 1900, 41 percent of American workers were employed in agriculture. But by 2000, automated machinery brought that number down to just 2 percent. At the same time, the food industry has grown with innovative methods to produce, process and deliver food to the marketplace.

Similarly, when ATMs were introduced in the 1970s, people thought they would replace bank tellers. Actually, ATMs reduced the cost of operating a bank branch. The result: More branches opened, employing more tellers.

Another example is when Henry Ford developed an assembly line to produce his Model T automobile. Not only did it reduce car-production costs, it reduced the sale price. Yet, reports that a little over 2 million people were employed by enterprises in the automotive dealer industry this year, a number greater than those who were employed when Ford conceived of the assembly line.


“Workers now are producing 47 percent more than 20 years ago,” Darrell M. West wrote in TechTalk online (June 2, 2016). He reported that “through the development of automation, robotics and advanced manufacturing, the sector has bounced back along with the overall economy.”

As usual, behind perceived losses are potential gains. In the business world, advances in technology have strengthened platforms for innovation. For instance, experts in product and service design are finding new solutions for the multiple needs of an aging demographic. Input from older workers who understand these issues ensures that new devices are developed that are effective. Robots will not be able to replicate the real-life problems and challenges that contribute to this creative process.

At this point in their work lives, older employees not only contribute vast amounts of experience and skill but also serve to identify salable products and services for their peers.

“If you look in (a) broader context, there’s room for optimism. What the machine takes away, it also gives back with entirely new industries, entirely new types of jobs,” Malcolm Frank, author of “What To Do When Machines Do Everything,” told Time magazine (April 21, 2017).


“Truth be told, computers are not very smart. All they are, are giant calculators,” game designer and author Celia Pearce told Pew Research Center. “They can do things that require logic, but logic is only one part of the human mind. So many of our basic human qualities are hard to code.”

For instance, innovation needs people with creative skills, and the workplace needs people with high EQ (emotional intelligence). These are not inherent in robots.

In fact, “those areas (jobs) in which human compassion is important will be less changed…,” said Herb Lin, chief scientist on the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board at the National Academies of Science. “Overall, the kinds of jobs that respondents predicted humans would still be needed to do involved interactions with other people. Health care, education and caring for the elderly and children were all seen as occupations (among others) that would still require a human touch.”

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak told USA Today (June 29, 2017), “Robots will one day replace us — but we needn’t worry for a few hundred years. Americans have been worrying about automation wiping out jobs for centuries.”


Older workers are adaptable, and have experienced and overcome organizational changes before.

“HR leaders seeking to retain these workers should help prepare them for their next roles by offering training that meets their unique needs and learning styles,” Chuck Leddy wrote in Spark online (Nov. 21, 2016). “Those who support older workers and help them (acclimate) to workforce changes should be able to engage and get the most out of their multigenerational talent.”

Fortunately, AI is providing the necessary tools by revolutionizing the learning process in companies. New teaching methods are increasing employee skills and competency with customized education and training to keep up with today’s workplace needs.

Has your company explored how it can use all of its resources — including a multigenerational workforce, robotics and AI — to reach your strategic goals?