The Human Factor in Automation

March 25, 2020
As machinery becomes more complex, skimping on training is a false economy.

As I worked on an upcoming article on automation earlier this month, one question I asked almost everyone I interviewed was about how to get floor workers to buy in. We covered buy-in in a podcast late in 2019, but as I dug into my article, I recognized there was more to the story. 

The effects of inadequate training, or none at all, can be devastating, and not just for overwhelmed workers. In his 2004 book “The Working Poor: Invisible in America,” David K. Shipler recounts how a single mother who was struggling to get off welfare went to work at an industrial bakery, and was assigned to a packaging machine that she had no idea how to operate:

“You have to feed the bags in, make sure the zip locks that close the breads is on. You have to set the machine a certain way – different kinds of bread, hamburger buns, hot dog buns”....She was having nightmares. “I’m still disoriented because I can’t think. All I keep doing is feel like I’m floating, because of this machine....The job came home with me...This doesn’t make sense for this little seven dollars.”

It doesn’t make sense. Someone who makes a lot more than $7 an hour should have figured out how to train workers like Debra to allow them to be productive instead of intimidated.

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