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Your Future HR MBOs Will Include Hiring At Least 1,000 Robots....

A while back I asked the question whether it was your job (HR's job) to find the lowest cost labor for your company to run on, including offshoring work to other countries when it makes sense.  I think it probably is your job - workforce planning, best/worst - depending on your perspective.  It sucks, I know - but if you don't do it when it makes sense, then someone's going to do it for you.

So, it's your job to find the lowest cost labor at the same quality.  By the way, in the future, that labor sourcing will include ROBOTS... The-kool-aid-man-vs-mr-roboto-5189

My good friend, Steve Boese, over at Steve's HR Technology Blog (aptly named, I might add) recently wrote about an article from TechCrunch that highlighted the fact that Foxconn, a huge supplier of all the electronics you use (iPhone - check, iPad - check) is moving out the manual labor in China and replacing it with Robots.  No joke - the economics of manual labor in China started not working as well as wages and costs invariably have risen.  Crazy stuff...

More from TechCrunch:

"Foxconn is planning on replacing many of its hard-working human manufacturers with about 1 million robots, a number that, if you think about it, is a very telling comment on the current state of electronics manufacturing.

There are apparently 10,000 robots at the factory now and that number will increase by 300,000 next year. Foxconn CEO Terry Gou plans another million robots by 2014. The company currently employs 1.2 million humans.

The most important thing to note here is that most of the repetitive tasks associated with manufacturing – placing components, closing cases, applying decals and paint, and testing – are all done by hand. Although we imagine that the manufacturing industry is run by huge, Transformer-like robots that plop out fully formed iPads in a wicked silicon satire of human reproduction, there are actual people involved in almost every step of the process. We are literally not far off from the Industrial Revolution here."

No robots to 1M robots at this company in 3 years.  Think about that... Everyone gets pissed off when jobs get offshored to places like China.  Now, jobs in China aren't even getting offshored to the next low-cost location - they're just plugging in robots to take over for the labor that humans provided. Which begs the question, when does production come back to the states because we can do similar type production onshore and avoid the shipping costs?  Answer - as soon as the total investment cost makes sense and we can save a dollar when we spread the capital investment costs out over a 5-year period.

So back to the question - is it your job to find the lowest cost labor for your company to run on (at the same quality), including robots?

It is - and it sucks for a huge portion of the workforce in the States that needs retraining to compete as the definition of the labor market changes.

That robotics track at the local technical school should be looking pretty tasty to anyone out of a production job who stumbles upon this TechCrunch article.


Steve Boese

The best part of this post is not actually the link to my piece, (which is of course fantastic), but rather the vintage Styx re-set in the image. Well done.

And I do agree with the premise, in fact I found it not an accident that the TechCrunch piece used the term 'hired' when referring to the plans to acquire the million robots. If we want to re-brand recruiting or staffing to 'Talent Acquisition', then why not include the acquisition of robots in that portfolio?

Earl Meininger

Great post!

My HR career has spanned 3 manufacturers, two of which are in the business of making equipment, including robots, that automate manufacturing processes. The other company is union, and is constantly upgrading their automation to remain competitive.

In high volume, low mix manufacturing, the standardized processes that humans perform are quasi-robotic; 9 steps, ~40 movements, 60 second cycle time, repeat. Repetitive manufacturing will go the way of the typewriter, and the retraining needs to take place in CNC and PLC machine operation. The folks that have these skills or get their 2 year technical degree can earn a meal ticket that rivals a 4 year degree. Automation reduces cost, improves quality, reduces variability, improves safety - the capital investment and implementation pain is worth it for companies looking long term.

What does that mean for the labor force when one robot tech can maintain the jobs that were done by 100 assemblers? I thought that "Leisure Time" was supposed to be the answer, but there are a few visual aids that lead me to believe this is untrue.

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