Shelly Palmer is a technology blogger I follow regularly. I particularly like his levelheaded approach to covering technology and what it means to our daily lives. Lately, he’s written a number of columns based on the “automation is going to take your job” theme. He’s certainly not the first to address the topic, but he’s very good at looking at both sides of the issue.It’s not hard to agree with Palmer that automation has, is, and will take jobs away from humans. That’s basically been happening since people started making things. Nothing new there. What goes through my mind when I read articles on this subject is, yes, automation takes jobs from workers who operate machinery and automation equipment, but does it take or does it change jobs for reliability and maintenance professionals? While there may be some job loss in the reliability and maintenance (R&M) arena as automation increases, things still, and always will, break. Somebody has to know what to do when those failures occur.
But that doesn’t mean R&M professionals can go merrily on about their daily routines. You have to stay on top of things or be left behind. In Palmer’s April 30, 2017 column “Partner, or Die,” he focuses on man/machine partnerships and lays out some strategies for how to “survive and prosper as robots take over the business world.” Here’s an overview:
Start reading. Read everything you can about data, data science, machine learning, AI, and automation. Everything you need to know is available online. Find every company that is working on automating cognitive tasks associated with your business. Immerse yourself in the subject. It is your new full-time job.
Be “that person.” This is the hardest step. Become that person in your department who “knows this stuff.” Figure out where to use data for better decision making and what tools to use to automate certain tasks, and become expert in them. Your current lack of knowledge is unimportant. You can learn, so learn!
Propose a test project. After you have figured out which assets (people included) need to be combined to accomplish your test project, build a short, uncomplicated presentation to articulate what you will try to accomplish and benchmarks you will use. You will be surprised at how quickly management says yes. If management does not say yes, you are working in a company that is not going to exist much longer, so look for a job where you get permission to use your new knowledge.
Show your results. Build another presentation that describes the problem you identified and solved with data science, data scientific research, machine learning, and the automation or the automated systems you built, conscripted, used, partnered with, and/or purchased. Make it easy to understand and obvious.
Revel in your success and repeat. With your initial success will come a “hallway handle,” something that gets thrown around by two coworkers passing in the hall, such as, “Hey, what are you working on?” “Joe’s data project.” Embrace it, own it, love it. It’s your pathway to gainful employment for the next decade and beyond.
Palmer concludes his column by stating, “The way to prosper in an ever-more-automated world is to create your competitive advantage by becoming the best possible man/machine partner. If you let the machines do what they do best, combine that with what you do best, and, most importantly, demonstrate the value of you and your machine skills to management, you will not only survive the attack of the machines, you will be stronger for it.” MT