HR Strange But True!
April 24, 2008

In Japan, HR pros may be able to ditch recruitment programs, performance reviews--and even salaries and meal breaks--because their newest "employees" may be robots.

With the country facing a graying workforce and a future massive labor shortage based on a low birth rate, the Machine Industry Memorial Foundation says Japan may be able to fill 3.5 million job openings, or about 80 percent of the projected shortage, with "working robots," according to an article in Reuters.

The robots would not replace human workers one-for-one, says the Foundation, but rather do menial tasks that would allow real employees to focus on more thoughtful activities.

Of course we've seen robotic arms doing repetitive tasks such as welding. However, "new and improved" robots are agile and programmable to fill a myriad of job descriptions. According to the article, these robots can work in the agricultural and forestry industries doing planting, harvesting, and pruning tasks and make deliveries inside buildings.

Surprisingly, the biggest impact of robots on the workforce may be in work/life issues, according to the article. Not only will robots take over household chores to free up workers, especially women, to work more hours and be more productive, but robots may take over menial nursing duties and even address eldercare issues as mechanical companions that can monitor, fetch, lift, and even bath seniors while caregivers are at work.

Of course, there are still some problems to be worked out. Takao Kobayashi, author of the robot workforce study, says that currently robots are expensive, and many functions need to be refined. However, he says the biggest problem is resistance by employers, who you would think would like to have workers that are always content and well behaved. "People need to have the will to use robots," he explains. Wonder if they will come up with an employee handbook chip!

Source: Reuters

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