Column

We’re 9th In Robots!

Gary Parr | May 17, 2018

An excellent example of manufacturers and educators not waiting for governments to get their acts together to solve the workforce problem is the collaboration between Siemens and other manufacturers and the Oakland Univ. ISE program.
An excellent example of manufacturers and educators not waiting for governments to get their acts together to solve the workforce problem is the collaboration between Siemens and other manufacturers and the Oakland Univ. ISE program.

In her article titled “The United States is way behind other countries on robot ‘readiness,’ report says” (Washington Post, April 24, 2018), Danielle Paquette delivered some sobering news. The latest “Automation Readiness Index” (automationreadiness.eiu.com), produced by The Economist and ABB, Cary, NC (abb.com), ranks the U.S. 9th out of 25 advanced economies.

Paquette’s use of the term “robots” in her title, though, was a bit too narrow of a focus. The Index measures companies on their preparedness for the age of intelligent automation. That broader definition actually paints an even uglier picture for U.S. manufacturing.

The pack leaders are South Korea, Germany, and Singapore. Why? According to the report, those countries have “undertaken individual initiatives in areas such as curriculum reform, lifelong learning, occupational training, and workplace flexibility.”

Another report finding is that the challenges and opportunities of intelligent automation require a robust policy response involving multiple stakeholders. To quote, “Although there is little agreement on the likely net impact of AI and robotics on employment, there is a consensus that governments will need to take action. Businesses, meanwhile, are forging ahead with adoption, meaning there is little time for dalliance. The lack of engagement between policymakers, industry, educational specialists, and other stakeholders that must inform this action is therefore alarming.”

You’ll notice the idea of education pops up in both of the previous paragraphs. That’s because it’s the crux of the problem. Three other report findings allude to what needs to be done by all countries—less so by South Korea, Germany, and Singapore:

• Few countries have begun to address the impact of automation through educational policy.

• Lifelong learning is becoming a rich area of experimentation.

• In most countries, vocational training is not up to the challenges posed by intelligent automation. In simple terms, we need to change our educational system and quickly.

Still, we’re not complete failures in this country. Not by any stretch. In recent issues of Efficient Plant and at efficientplantmag.com, we have been highlighting success stories in this area. We do so again this month. Michelle Segrest shares what is being done in the Industrial and Systems Engineering Dept. at Oakland Univ., near Detroit (oakland.edu/ise). Working with Siemens Corp. USA, Washington (siemens.com), and other industrial partners, the educators at Oakland are turning out students who have the skills and hands-on experience that allow them to be immediate difference makers in real-world jobs. The result is companies in Southeastern Michigan now have a source of skilled workers that don’t have to be “trained” for a year before they start to contribute. The program has been so successful that students are locking down jobs before they graduate.

The industrial/educational collaboration at Oakland Univ. points a laser beam at one of the statements in the The Economist/ABB report: “Businesses, meanwhile, are forging ahead with adoption, meaning there is little time for dalliance.” In other words, businesses have work that needs to be done and aren’t waiting around for governments to get their acts together. EP

gparr@efficientplantmag.com

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Gary Parr

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