Reading a share posted by Dan Pink, who authored “Drive” and many other best-sellers, set me thinking. It read, “Right now, we should be less worried about robots taking human jobs than people in low-skilled positions being forced to work like robots.” The quote itself drawn from February 2021 issue of Axios Future, and from the news post written by Bryan Walch, title – 1 big thing: How the automation economy turns workers into robots.

Point is clear, as jobs get replaced, it is highly skilled trades that will see the demand rising – those with digital, analytic and such other capabilities. But low-wage jobs, mostly low-skilled repetitive jobs will also rise. What happens to the low-wage worker? Industrial revolution of last century – made front-line worker quite robotic anyway – with lesser and lesser judgment to be applied on repetitive tasks. The fourth industrial revolution is doing that even more and at a faster pace. This post by Axios – talks about warehouse workers of the big retail giants. Same might be true for a large section of manufacturing, food & restaurant businesses, and many other trades where people repetitively working on the same tasks – a composite human-robot or machine interface. Manual labor appears more and more automated. As the industry follows a learning curve of its own, let’s say in online retailing, for the medium term, such jobs will only grow. Even Axios presents some interesting statistics on the job growth in this sector and predictions over next decade.

In my view, robotizing human effort, even though for low skilled jobs is an immense disrespect of human ability and spirit. How could we have a menial workforce engaged in activities, that takes away bulk of their daily time in repetitive tasks – that further reduce their ability and opportunity to gain new knowledge. The sooner industry starts thinking of this, the better for our society.

To understand and appreciate this problem deeply, it requires, that we synthesize this view properly.

  1. There is a segment of our society and a substantial one – that has fewer and fewer opportunities to evolve and get more skilled.
  2. The have and have nots divide grows larger and larger – it is being witnessed today.
  3. Robotizing a human comes with its own side effects on individual’s psyche – pertaining to mental and emotional health.

It is quite irresponsible for a society to keep a large segment of her population from growing their cognitive prowess.

It is evident – that we do need to do something about it – and as we look deeply, these jobs more than anywhere else are also a window to a great opportunity for personal and social transformation. These jobs by their very nature – requires one to be attentive and focused for longer periods of time.

This is where lies the freedom. Freedom from the entrapment. Attention is that quality of mind, that has capacity to make one mindful. And in repetitive tasks, attention is achieved rather easily by discipline and repetitiveness involved in the tasks. There is one ingredient that is missing in this equation though – an ingredient that helps one transcend their capabilities. Karl Weick and other researchers have written a lot about awareness in their research. Particularly from the perspective of high reliability organizations that require increased attention on failure and acting innovatively in the given situation. In robotic task ecosystem, like the one presented in warehouses, there lies a potential – to help people practice awareness.

Now the question is awareness of or on what? What should be the subject of awareness – in a highly mechanical work environment – where awareness is solely on the mechanized and repetitive activity. Often, in an efficiency driven environment, work setting tries to maximize human productivity for the shift – and maximize human output – like pack a certain number of boxes within a certain time. Clock driven, smells of scientific management. Back to the 20th century! So, awareness of what? How to get advantage of the one quality that takes humans so much time to develop? And objective of such awareness? What do we wish to achieve by that?

Assuming, we want to get workers out of their low-skill spiral and propelling them to learn newer and/or higher skills – and that is our objective. This is not just a philanthropic objective. Freeing human spirit is wonderful for your business – as it is good to rotate talent on low skilled activity and automating it more and more in successive generations of workers. It is a wonderful strategy.

So, this being the objective – what do we want awareness to do? Awareness must generate curiosity in the mind to learn – without curiosity, it is impossible to learn. Generating curiosity requires exposure. And there lies the key to awareness. Focusing attention of individuals on exploration of skills that can possibly provide them a continuous employment for at least 1-2 years. the interest of people to invest in themselves, can have wonderful effects on their productivity. Given that typical low skill environments, also have constraints of profit margins and costs, new and creative ways need to be found – and what may be better than story telling and self-exploration. Experiments of awareness towards self-improvement – that raises the livelihood and earning, can become of the greatest value contributors to society and ultimately to business.

Lower skills may easily be correlated with sustenance of enterprise ecosystem and society. We have seen ecosystems in past – deeply driven by menial work, not able to sustain aspirations of its people – and therefore disappearing in the oblivion. Many a Detroit will rise and wane. Fuel human spirit, with the lantern of learning. That’s what makes ecosystems sustain and live longer. Increasing human awareness for personal improvement is one of the most noble human ideas. Creators of menial labor possibly have the best opportunity in upliftment of human spirit. Spread awareness of people to rise, and their attentiveness will not only surprise you, but also transform you.