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Management Side
The Future Workforce
In the last month, there have been a number of articles in the popular press that proffer the automaton workforce is just around the corner. Steve Wozniak, of Apple Computer fame, recently said humans will be the pets of robots, not the other way around.

As automation devices, from controlling software, actual robots and drones become ever more proficient, you will adopt them in order to keep up with your competitors. Already, the most automated paper mills are seeing a 10- to 30-percent improvement in their personnel requirements over conventionally configured mills. In downstream processes, converting and printing, the numbers are even higher.

Where the challenge is going to be is in those required to maintain all of this "machinery." Already, good process control programmers and troubleshooters are in high demand. For the near term, the same will be said for technicians to service all these devices. Of course, in the long term, we will likely have robots that repair the robots.

Beyond our scope, however, is the societal upheaval all these "replacement people" will cause. Workforce participation is already low by traditional post World War II standards. Further displacement of workers will not help this situation. On the other hand, companies may bring production back from overseas, but the bad news for society will be that the work will be done by robots.

As we continue hurling down this path, companies will be required to be ever more nimble to keep up with changing conditions, for robots will not only change the production side, but due to a lower percentage of employees in the workforce, change the market side, too. Fasten your seatbelts, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

Jim Thompson is Executive Editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at jthompson@taii.com.
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