We have blogged before on the Boston Federal Reserve and the series of articles they have posted on their website about the need for quality jobs and the need to invest in workers. This last month, they came out with a new series on the impact of technology on workers and their jobs. In addition to that article, complimentary pieces are on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School for Management about the importance of involving workers and others with technology changes.
As the Boston Fed reports, technology is going to make an impact on jobs but it may not be as bad as what some media sources have reported. Technology changes will be more gradual, they say, instead of immediate, and while there will be job loss, there still will be plenty of opportunities for workers because robots or other technology just can’t do everything a human does. They also say it will be important for workers to learn and work more with technology. Technology can benefit workers. For example, some technology can eliminate monotonous, repetitive tasks or it may help make jobs safer.
Both the Boston Fed and MIT Sloan say organizations need to watch how technology advancements are implemented because they may not be beneficial. Just because it may be successful in one organization doesn’t mean it will be in another. Some organizations rush to implement the latest innovation without exploring the impact or usefulness of it. In other words, it’s treated more like the flavor or the month. It is better they say to have workers and other experts involved in the decision making process to help determine need, the design and the implementation .
Involving others, particularly workers, brings about different perspectives. Things that may not have been thought of by one or just a few people can be recognized by those who actually do the work or by experts or customers who may be familiar or have had similar experiences can provide additional information that can help make the right decision.
When we’ve worked with labor-management groups on technology issues, we use problem solving tools to help determine the best solution. We encourage lots of different options by addressing the real issues the organization is facing and the common concerns or interests of each side. This is a much better approach than focusing on a single solution or rushing to something that may not even resolve the issue.
Plus as others are involved, it creates greater buy-in for any change that may happen. That buy-in translates into greater loyalty by employees, customers, and other individuals who may be involved. When it comes to employees it means working hard and productivity gains. It also can provide more experienced and skilled workers instead of the added costs of hiring new workers who will require training and time to get up to speed.
The Boston Fed says when workers are involved it helps to ease fears or concerns about the future of their jobs but the MIT Sloan article goes a little bit further. Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO, said in the article it’s more than just informing. It’s making sure workers are involved in the decision-making process. If not, the process may not work for the entire organization. Workers can help with the design and function of technology.
An example of this is something that happened in Columbus and is highlighted in the Boston Fed series. Several years ago, Columbus received a grant for technology innovation for transportation from the U. S. Department of Transportation. One of the innovations the Columbus group came up with was driverless buses but there was a problem, city bus drivers were not included in the planning. Once the bus drivers heard about the driverless bus plan, they pointed out several things that those working on the plan didn’t consider. One was bus drivers help some of their passengers get on and off a bus. That’s something that could be a problem if there isn’t a driver for a bus. The bus drivers also said sometimes they see emergency situations along their routes. One driver saw a home on fire and alerted the fire department.
An example that was in the Boston Fed piece was about workers at a lens plant. The workers say they aren’t too concerned about technology because they can recognize some imperfections in the lens technology cannot detect. They also say they are better at developing customized lenses than the robots at the plant.
In another example, we worked with a group who saw technology taking over their jobs. Once they learned how each group member was using the technology and what each was doing that technology could not do, they realized there were things they could do to improve their jobs and their ability to do more than technology, they were able to come up with alternatives and other solutions for their jobs. In other words, they worked with management to re-design their jobs that benefitted the entire organization.
The idea of involving workers especially with technology needs is a no-brainer. As with many other workplace issues, the benefits are enormous. The more involved workers are, the better for the organization. It may not always be easy but it’s worth it. It’s also important to involve other experts or customers in the process. Everybody brings a different perspective that only help provide additional information and support for change.
Both the Boston Fed and MIT Sloan said this is not the first time workplaces have experienced major work process changes. The Industrial Revolution shifted the country into a different industry. The Information Age with the advent of computers and the internet brought more change. AI and robots will change things again but humans have a lot of ideas and lots of ability. It’s important those ideas and ability are utilized.Thi