HR Intel: Is HR Ready for the Robot Revolution?

A regular round up of news, legal trends and workplace developments to help keep HR ahead of the curve

Any time there’s a technological revolution, there are winners and losers. About this, historical precedent is clear. After all, elevator operators, scriveners and ice cutters have mostly retired or had to reinvent themselves because technology made their jobs obsolete. The advent of clean energy created winners in the form of oil, gas, wind and solar companies and the millions of workers they employ, but losers in the form of coal miners – an occupation which has all but disappeared in the last few decades.

The next revolution – robotics – is upon us, but it’s hard to say exactly who the losers will be. Early indicators are that big businesses stand to reap most of the rewards in the form of cost savings, efficiency and the reduction of human error. But identifying the losers is a lot more complicated. For example, Adidas closed one of its factories in China and moved it to Germany so it can experiment with using robots to make sneakers. That’s a win for Adidas but also a loss for thousands of Chinese factory workers.

Take truck drivers, for example, which is (by far) the most common occupation in over half of US states. There are about 1.8 million truck drivers in the US, and they made a median annual salary of over $40,000 in 2015. And those jobs are typically available to individuals without a college degree. Alarmingly, some industry analysts expect the robot revolution will make truck drivers go extinct. That’s a tremendous number of blue collar workers making a solid salary with solid benefits who will need to find a completely different line of work. Is the US economy prepared to handle that?