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Will automation result in a deserted smart factory?

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A concern that has been raised with the rising of automation and its powerful ways to be more effective than humans. Every company wants itself to be on the top and automation seems to show the path.

But Christoph Kübel, Bosch CEO says automation is for creating more jobs and not destroying them. An interview conducted by Zeit has been translated from German and also edited.

Mr. Kübel, as the managing director of Bosch, you are responsible for human resources. Will a robot do your job in 20 years?

If he is just as passionate about being an HR Manager as I am, why not? But seriously: We are already working on artificial intelligence today and let humans and machines work together. And 20 years is a long time. But I’m not sure whether my colleagues really want to talk to a robot instead of a human. Because a person can respond to needs, make a joke and give praise. That comes from the heart.

Robots are more efficient than humans. Can they eventually replace us entirely at work? People could then spend their day with nicer things.

Our vision is definitely not a deserted factory. The combination of humans and robots brings the best results. In production, we have to find new solutions every day and optimize processes together with colleagues. Humans can do that much better than any robot. In some plants, we have already automated to a great extent. There it shows that we are becoming more productive with the same number of workers. And don’t forget: work also creates identity.  

So automation won’t cost jobs, as is often feared?

More than 130,000 robots have been installed in Germany since 1990. Despite this, the total number of jobs has remained the same. It’s the same with us. Above all, monotonous, repetitive processes are automated in the plants. New jobs are being created, for example in the software area.

What will change for your employees?

Not everyone will be able to keep the same job. That is why we attach great importance to the further training of our employees. An engineer who develops software for combustion engines today will be able to do the same for electric motors in the future. In other areas we need to do more. At our location in Reutlingen, for example, we offer production employees further training in programming. Up to 500 employees can see this. However, we will not be able to qualify every employee in this way.

If you are poorly qualified, you will probably lose your job first?

We have set up programs for semi-skilled and unskilled workers to qualify them as skilled workers. Then they could also operate machines. For many, however, such further training is not at all interesting at first glance, because school and learning were never an issue for them. Or they do not think further training is necessary because they are currently still busy in production.

How do you motivate someone like that?

We want to reach the employees together with the employee representatives. We want to show them the opportunities that such further training offers. Every year, we also draw up a skills profile for our employees: what can they learn and what do they still need to learn? We take into account how the department will change. From the competence profile, we then derive which skills the employee should improve or learn new ones. This is understandable and transparent for the employees.

In my opinion, the panic of losing your work with automated machines created unnecessary chaos leading the crowd to get diverted into unnecessary situations. But nevertheless, rumors are always not false, let’s not forget about the competition and who can capture the market?

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