There are no two ways about it: robots and AI are going to become a part of the workforce, and we humans are going to have to learn to work alongside a lot of unfamiliar technology. Across all industries, employers are feeling the pressure of a narrowing talent market. Unemployment is at an all-time low, and hiring managers are battling it out to find and recruit the best candidates. It won’t be long before we'll be mingling with the cobot workforce in our everyday lives.
No, robots aren’t going to take our jobs, but they might help fill in a few gaps in the near future. Traditional job sectors, like skilled trades, sales, and manufacturing are taking the brunt of the labor shortage. Manufacturing, in particular, will see a shortage of about 2 million workers by 2020, according to a 2015 report by Deloitte. Mix together an already tight labor market with long time-to-fill rates and evolving technology, and you get an urgent need for change. And necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.
Cobots Play Nicely in the Workplace
Robots and cobots are not technically the same thing. Cobots (collaborative robots) are designed to work alongside their human colleagues, assisting them with tasks and freeing up time for people-powered duties. The Ford Fiesta plant in Cologne, Germany was one of the early adopters of the technology. Here, cobots and humans can be seen working in tandem on the assembly lines, drastically streamlining the process. Ford VP Bruce Hettle describes the symbiotic relationship in a CNBC interview:
"The workforce is really helping us define how they can contribute more by using the collaborative robots to do some of the more mundane, simple, heavy-exertion tasks, which in turn allows them to use more of their creativity and their minds to take us to the next level."
It’s important to note that cobots are designed from the getgo to work with human employees, not replace them. Ford’s cobots feature skins covered in sensors that detect when delicate human hands are in the way, allowing the cobot to function intelligently and safely alongside their co-workers. Cobots tend to be on the smaller side – a lot smaller than the clunky industrial robots of yesteryear. They’re a hell of a lot smarter, too. Aside from lifting heavy loads and using small tools with pinpoint accuracy, Cobots at the Ford plant can also engage in human activities, like using the vending machine or fist-bumping colleagues after a job well done. Truth be told, cobots are actually kind of cute.
As Always, Japan Does the Cool Tech Thing First
Manufacturing isn’t the only industry that’s struggling with the talent shortage, and it’s not the only industry that’s looking to the cobot workforce for solutions. A recent ERE article highlights a restaurant in Nagasaki, Japan that’s powered by the technology. Henn-na restaurant counts a robot chef, mixologist, and host among its team of 30 cobots and seven people. Historically, Japan has faced some of the world’s most troubling labor shortages, with 2017 ranking as the worst shortage in nearly 40 years. With plummeting productivity and high labor costs, it’s no surprise that employers across all industries have embraced automation in one way or another. In America, cobots have been slow to catch on outside of manufacturing. But if the labor market in Japan is any indication, cobots aren’t going to be a fad – they’re going to become a necessity.
Prepare Your Hiring Teams for Cobots
The inevitability of the cobot workforce poses a challenge for recruiters, who will need to find candidates familiar with (and willing to work with) robot counterparts. Employers, too, will likely meet a few speed bumps in their hiring funnels. How can businesses shift their hiring strategies to find future-ready candidates?
Be Honest and Informative
Companies that employ or will employ cobots need to be proactive and honest with their content. According to a Pew Research survey, only 6% of Americans are enthusiastic about robots in the workforce, while the vast majority (72%) are concerned about it. It’s no wonder why so many companies are hesitant to talk about their new tech. But being upfront and informative about working with cobots could potentially quell some of these worries. Employers should emphasize how cobots are designed to work in harmony with their human colleagues, not for or instead of them. Content that clearly demonstrates how cobots improve productivity, eliminate safety hazards, and workloads will help employees and potential employees understand what’s in it for them.
Make it Exciting
Recently, we published an article covering the importance of company career pages. They play a big part in candidate experience, and they’re also a great way to showcase your company culture – especially if cobots are a part of it. Employers should use their careers page to get candidates excited about working at a company that’s at the forefront of its space. Rebrand your cobot. Give it a name. Include videos of how it works and testimonials from coworkers. Go wild and make it a mascot for your company culture. Candidates are more likely to get hyped about working with robots when their potential employer shows enthusiasm, too.
Invest in Training Initiatives
The benefits of cobot training are twofold: the cobots learn how to do their jobs efficiently, and the human trainers feel more comfortable having a degree of control. Thing is, very few of your employees are going to come on board with extensive knowledge of how robots work, and targeting candidates with previous experience will only make your search harder. Luckily, many of today’s most advanced cobots require little to no programming, and crash courses are fast, affordable, and widely available. Some cobot manufacturers even offer free online training. It’s safe to say that cobot training will become an integral component of employee onboarding in the near future.
Cobots Around the Corner
Cobots and AI share similar trajectories when entering the workforce. Both will face significant challenges winning over hesitant humans, with the weight of the problem hanging mainly over employers’ heads. A cobot workforce might seem like some far off sci-fi reality, but it’s a lot more realistic (and less dramatic) than Hollywood would have us think. In other words, employers should start tinkering with their recruiting strategies now to prepare for the impending robot domination. Or else.
Image credit: (c) 2015. Jeff Green/Rethink Robotics. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.