As we are poised to enter 2020, the workplace has become more digital and robotic than ever. With these advancements in technology, there is a large amount of skepticism and even fear that human workers will soon be replaced by robots. When we consider the fact that many screens greet consumers at McDonalds rather than human faces, our fears that we might all one day be replaced by machines in the workplace seem well-founded. And while its true that perhaps computers are well employed in many service jobs, manufacturing employees can rest assured that they will not be replaced by digital workers.

It is true that career paths and trajectories change in a digital age. Technology evolves, and the workplace evolves with it. As the field of manufacturing evolves, three things will happen to keep our employees up to speed.

  1. People first!It’s true that some business models are moving towards automation. This doesn’t mean that they are seeking to limit the number of people they employ. It does mean that they are seeking to reduce the number of mindless tasks that a human must perform. Reducing routine tasks also cut costs, and adds value to the lives of customers and employees alike. If routine tasks are automated, it leaves the truly interesting tasks to the minds of human beings. 
  2. Emphasizing soft skillsThis is a trend that we are seeing in the workplace even now. Manual physical tasks can be trained. It’s much more difficult to teach “soft” skills. What is a soft skill? It’s a skill that’s completely unique to human beings, something a computer can’t do. Soft skills are things like interpersonal communication, people-management, creativity, and critical thinking. A machine can do automated tasks, but it can’t communicate why a project is no longer working or a potential issue with a product. Only people can do that! Computers can do repetitive tasks, and humans can be trained to do a job, but it’s very difficult to train them into being a great coworker. As manufacturing moves into the future, soft skills will be more important than ever.
  3. Building the digital toolboxAlthough it may seem contradictory to the last point, as the workplace moves towards automation, yes, humans will have to be more comfortable using technology. The days of years’ worth of paper filing systems are mostly behind us, and sometimes, your coworker might be across the country instead of in the cubicle next to you. Using social media for work, team-management software systems like Slack and Basecamp, and instant messaging systems are now very common in the workplace. The ease of instant digital communication can yield higher productivity.

The evolution of manufacturing is happening, but not in the way that many people fear. The workplace will evolve, and human employment will evolve along with it. These processes are already in place for many–encouragement to use LinkedIn, work group chats, networking events, and the encouragement for personal and professional development. Remote work is also more prevalent than ever. Rest assured–work in the manufacturing industry isn’t going anywhere.