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Category Archives: Manufacturing

Changing the role of human resources

Google “HR” and “seat at the table” and you’ll find articles from nearly ten years ago lamenting why the human resources function does not have such a seat—in other words, it has little voice in the executive suite. Part of the reason may be how HR practitioners view themselves. The 2013 State of Talent Managers Report from New Talent Management Network found that “the modest and siloed career ambitions among those in HR suggests that we must either meaningfully shift how we grow HR talent or become comfortable having marginal impact…[as a result] talent leaders will likely develop more myopic and less strategic solutions.”

There is great potential if companies can change how they view HR—and how HR views itself. Commenting on President Obama’s plans to improve the economy by strengthening the manufacturing sector, Tom Kochan, Professor of Work and Employment Research and Engineering Systems at MIT Sloan, told HR Executive Online, “One of the most important factors in [the manufacturing industry’s] success is HR.”

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To automate or not: That is the manufacturing question

When it comes to manufacturing in today’s economy, increased automation in manufacturing plants may seem like a given. Factories first opened their doors to modern industrial robots in 1961 when Unimate—a 4,000-pound (1,814-kilogram) arm attached to a giant steel drum—joined the General Motors workforce, and they have since become a mainstay of mass production. When a job is just right for a robot, productivity tends to increase dramatically.

However, not all companies are going the way of automation on the assembly line, especially when trading humans for machines goes against their brand.

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Does the return of manufacturing to the U.S. mean more jobs?

The return of manufacturing to the U.S., also referred to as the “repatriation” or “re-shoring” by American and non-American companies alike, on the surface sounds like good news for employment. However, this is not necessarily the case.

Although manufacturing output over the last 60 years has grown roughly by 3.7% annually, employment has stayed mostly flat during this time. Why does this continue to be true, even as many companies have been moving manufacturing back to the U.S. since 2010?

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Yes, a robot may take your job

Smart machines are everywhere we go. They’re on the plant floor manufacturing our cars, and they are in our grocery stores scanning our purchases. In the case of the iPhone and Siri, they are even in our pockets.

And that means that smart machines and robots will be taking more and more jobs. As Erik Brynjolfsson, Professor of Information Technology at MIT Sloan School of Management said on CBS’ 60 Minutes, “There are lots of examples of routine, middle-skilled jobs that are being eliminated the fastest. Those kinds of jobs are easier for our friends in the artificial intelligence community to design robots to handle them.”

But some of the developments we’ve seen in recent years indicate robots—or smart machines—will be taking not just manual jobs, but also intellectual jobs. Just take a look at Watson, IBM’s computer that played on—and won—Jeopardy! Over the course of the tournament, Watson not only came up with correct answers, but also learned why his incorrect answers are wrong. It improved at a rate faster than any human could.

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