In October, Staffing Industry Analysts reported German car manufacturing giant Volkswagen’s plans to replace its retiring baby boomers with a cheaper, shinier, more… automated version of its former workers. Because of the lack of young people coming along to replace those who will be retiring, HR Chief Horst Neumann writes, “We now have the opportunity to replace more people with robots to support the existing trainees.”
This is, of course, wrong on so many levels. Not to mention the fact that real people need real paying jobs to feed their families and put a roof over their heads, don’t we all know how this eventually ends? Give these machines an inch and, like the apes (and the Nazis, but we won’t go there) they’ll take a mile… and, eventually, a planet. Hasn’t anyone at Volkswagen seen their pal Arnold in The Terminator? Not a good idea!
It’s a massive understatement that, as staffing industry professionals, this development should certainly fall under the ‘threat’ column of any SWOT analysis any of us does from now until the end of time. After all, if you take away our significant competitive advantage, namely our ability to recruit, screen, and deal with real people, you pretty much take away our business.
After all, if you take away our significant competitive advantage, namely our ability to recruit, screen, and deal with real people, you pretty much take away our business.
That said, the pragmatic, technology-embracing side of me does wonder – what’s next? We already know robotics plays a significant role in many industries across the world, but what if every job could, with emerging technologies, be done just as well by a robot? I mean, if a $400 Roomba can vacuum an entire house by itself, what else is possible? Will we have C3PO-like units working at McDonalds (Would you like fries with that, Master Luke?), RoboCops patrolling the streets, R2D2s taking customer service calls? (Hey, I hate talking to machines as much as anybody, but it beats trying to understand ‘Bob’ from New Delhi any day.)
Is there something we as an industry can do to not just counter this trend, but exploit it to our advantage? Here’s an idea – perhaps we could build our own robots and hire them out to our clients! Sure, it would take some engineering know-how, but many of us staff engineers anyway. How about putting some of them to work in-house to build the ‘temp of the future,’ the temp most of us have dreamed of placing for our entire careers… We could call it TempRobot.
How many of us have told a great employee, ‘If we could just clone you…!’ Well, no more excuses – now we can!
Consider the possibilities.
No bathroom breaks. No lunch hours. No 15-minute smoke breaks every hour or two. No days missed to take Granny to her hair appointment or Pookie to the vet. Best of all, nobody hitting on that hot new girl in packaging because they are too busy working and, well, there are no hot new girls in packaging because they are all robots!
No legal issues
No EEOC suits, no harassment claims, no courtrooms, no employee-friendly judges or parasitic, polyester-clad lawyers looking to stick it to ‘the man’ – You’ll think you just walked onto the set of Mad Men Meets The Jetsons, a brand new, albeit disconcerting show!
No workers compensation
With robots, there will certainly be no legitimate injuries, which is awesome enough, but no fake ones either. No workers comp scammers looking to make us (and you) their personal, zero-deductible insurance policy. No ‘phantom’ shoulder pulls, ‘mysterious’ back injuries, and ‘no witness’ falls – not even anyone complaining about whatever working conditions they happen to be in – just you and your massive handlebar mustache rocking that bowler hat like a 1880s mine boss. Back to work, ‘3P0!
Have you ever had to tell an employee how to do something over and over again, only to have them forget yet again—and at the worst possible time? Don’t you wish you could simply install training details into your employees’ brains like a program to a computer hard drive? Well, wish no more, because a simple upload will immediately get TempRobot up-to-speed in less time than it takes to show your ‘real’ workers where to take their smoke-breaks.
No pay or benefits
Minimum wage? How about zero dollars an hour? You’ll think you’re an Egyptian pharaoh overseeing a pyramid construction, ‘cause these robots are really good at lifting and they’ll do it all day, every day, for absolutely nothing (except for our fee and a few squirts of oil, of course). The good news is, as opposed to those days, the labor won’t really be ‘back-breaking’ since robots don’t have real backs to break.
Every business owner knows turnover is a profit killer. In this ‘grass is always greener’ age, people flit from job to job like singles at a speed dating event. Much has been said about the lack of company loyalty these days, but employee loyalty is also a thing of the past… but not for TempRobot. Every morning of every day you’ll come in to see the contraption toiling away tirelessly on your assembly line. These are the droids you’re looking for.
For our clients, beyond the fee they would pay us, there really aren’t any drawbacks. For the staffing agency there would certainly be significant upfront costs. It’s probably a safe bet to say developing robots is expensive and, after research, development and production, there would also be ongoing maintenance to deal with.
There is also the risk of a programming malfunction or a computer virus – robots, after all, are built and programmed by fallible humans. As such, they are prone to ‘mess up’ every now and then. Worst case scenario – they develop human-like reason and take over the world. While the odds of that are pretty slim, before anything like that ever happens we’ll hopefully be rich enough to purchase our own island getaway!