It Takes a Team to Ensure Successful Incorporation of Robotics

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The ongoing debate of the “proper role” for humans/people in the age of automation is not a clearcut one, but it does have some defined parameters when it comes to successfully merging the two and how to ensure your workforce is prepared to lead this partnership. But there is one monumental understanding that has to be accepted before it can be a beneficial relationship. “The success is going to come down to the people involved in the process,” explained Erik Nieves, founder and CEO of Plus One Robotics Inc., at a standing-room-only education seminar in the Emerging Leader Theater on Monday entitled: Humans Are the Loop—Workforce Development in the Age of Automation Hypergrowth. The workers who are going to be running these robots will be the determining factor in their success.

“The robots aren’t coming. The robots are already here,” said Nieves, pointing to a chart showing that in 2020 non-automotive robots surpassed auto orders. “This was the first time in history,” he explained, and 2021 had an even larger percentage.

So finding and training the right humans to pair with the robotics is imperative to ensure the successful incorporation of these robot/human teams in your distribution center.

According to Nieves, “the folks you have in operation today are the best ones to train for the operations of tomorrow.” They know your operation, plus are considered incumbent workers―and there are lots of funding opportunities available if upskilling employees for the jobs of tomorrow, he said, mentioning one in Atlanta that is offering $5,000 for each employee upskilled. Just be sure to start them in the process early and get them involved.

Another option is to look at the pipeline of talent and consider adding some in-house options along those lines, such as internships. Or, try looking at the website created by Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing ( which shows educational facilities for working with robotics in material handling. “This is the fastest way for you, as an operator, to find where you can get talent and get your people trained,” said Nieves. Either way, you can be assured that if you incorporate robotics, there will be robot talent on the backend of that pipeline; robotics is a staple in many students’ curriculum, even as young as middle school.

Veterans can be another possible source of potential talent, too. Army MOS 89D is advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal and MOS 14E is another one “with a lot of robotics context in what they do,” explained Nieves. However, before you hire them, figure out where you are going to put them. This position isn’t really an operations job and isn’t really a robot technician’s job. It is more of a production engineering position, where they would be responsible for the performance of the robots, he explained. 

In short, there are three things you should be doing:
1.      Train your own people.
2.      Start up a pipeline, potentially, even in your facility.
3.      Look into hiring veterans. 

And one important thing to keep in mind: “People really want to be good at their job,” said Nieves. So, the key is to let them know that they can be great at it as part of a robot-human team―one where they will be the “crew chief.”




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