ERP, Automation, and the Employee

There’s a lot of news in the ERP space these days about automation and the future of manufacturing and resource management (recently actually is more like a decade, but roll with it). Everyone sees the progress of automation, whether they view it as a beacon of hope or an omen of despair. Amazon’s automated factories and drones, robotic restaurants, and increasingly effective digital personal assistants.

If you read the articles and discussions that come out of the industry, you’ll see a little concern, and a lot of optimism. There’s no doubt that ERP will undergo a significant shift — already is, in fact — and many processes will need to change, adapt, be updated more and more often. Yet those in the know believe that automation has the power to make ERP more efficient and that the effort involved in staying on top of technology will see significant gains in the long run for individual businesses and for the industry as a whole.

The item of note that so few such articles touch on is what will happen to the employees themselves who face the paradigm shift, especially the blue-collar workers who encounter a sink-or-swim, learn-or-die environment. The company may weather the change and come out stronger, but that may not hold true for any particular employee’s career and livelihood.

Then, if you read the articles aimed at blue-collar workers themselves, you’ll find a very different tone — titles include phraseology like “Don’t Worry,” and “Automation Actually Adds Jobs.” Most articles then go on to address how the shift towards automation in manufacturing and other areas simply shifts the lines of the workforce, and how retraining is common and surprisingly simple, and how more new jobs will be created than it removes.

But of course, none of this is very comforting if you’re the one who might be displaced, if you’re the one who is dependent on the company actually choosing to retrain rather than rehire its workforce, if your livelihood depends on your ability to keep up with a quickly shifting process.

So few of the hard-hitting articles that actually come out of the ERP space itself discuss this factor — because from an organizational perspective, it’s largely irrelevant. The workforce will shift and change, the technologies will replace one another, this much is guaranteed, and it’s simply your job as a representative of a business in the ERP space to keep stride with those changes and utilize them to get ahead rather than fall behind. You may a caring human being and feel unhappy when longtime employees lose their jobs because they simply can’t keep up, but that’s how the bottom line works.

There’s no clearcut solution for how to handle automation and the displaced, or replaced, workforce. Despite all the posturing of various parties regarding what must or will certainly occur, no one really knows how it all will shake out.

It’s important — and challenging! — to keep a careful balance between concern over the state of the industry and over the ramifications for the individuals concerned. After all, technology is here to help us as individuals, and as a society. If we split that apart into functionally separate halves, we’re losing the real benefit of technology to make our lives better.

So let’s keep an open mind, and a watchful eye, as we observe the wonderful and undeniably fascinating changes that are coming not only to ERP but to so many areas of work. Open and honest communication will bring a smooth transition to a future of high technology.

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