The Real Cost of Retraining Your Workers to Keep Up With Your Robots

By on September 5, 2018

From Inc.:  In some industries, it’s a given that your workforce must include robots–to run a competitive, efficient company in, say, logistics or manufacturing, you have to automate some of your processes. Still, it’s left some employers grappling with the question, what does this mean for your human employees?

Smaller companies that have embraced automation increasingly are realizing that they not only still need humans, they need humans with a specific skill set. In a 2016 McKinsey report, 62 percent of executives said they needed to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce within the next five years due to automation. In today’s tight job market, finding the right skills at a reasonable cost is a challenge. To cope, many businesses are investing in retraining their existing workers–and grooming the next generation now, says Joseph Fuller, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School.

“You’re better off growing your own [workforce],” Fuller says.

Sounds good in theory, but how does it work in practice? And how much does it cost? Inc. spoke with several businesses in the middle of retraining their workers to find out.

In Edwards, Colo., Symbia Logistics CEO Megan Smith has increasingly incorporated technology in her 1,600 distribution centers to help boost productivity. In the past five years, she has been outfitting the centers with sorting-and-dismantling robots–to cater to a growing e-commerce business–as well as shrink wrap machines, conveyor belts, and automatic printers.

“I would say that it’s moving from being a physical job to a mental job,” she says. Automation has taken “almost all of the physical labor out of the sorting and painting” that her employees used to perform.

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