ERE Conference’s Final Day: Yes, the Robots Are Coming to a Workplace Near You

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 10.45.39 PMRemember when the talk was about the great future that was available for people working in plastics?

Fast forward about 45 years, and now the discussion is about the huge changes coming to the workplace because of another trendy and cutting edge concept — robotics.

Attorney Garry Mathiason, chairman of the board of mega law firm Littler Mendelson, kicked off Day 2 of the Spring 2013 ERE Recruiting Conference & Expo in San Diego talking about Advanced Workplace Robots and Implications for Recruitment Strategies. While I admit that the title doesn’t sound like something you want to sit though early in the morning on the last day of a conference, Mathiason quickly said a few things that really got my attention.

Here’s one: “By 2025, robots will have taken over half of the jobs in the U.S.”

Robots Are Reshaping the Workplace

And here’s another: “Robots will change every known profession in the next 12 years. Robotics is the next Internet.”

What? Robots? Taking over American jobs? It’s too early in the morning to digest this!

Mathiason woke me up with this presentation, and should you question its relevance at a recruiting conference (as I did when first reading the title), here are some of the relevant points:

  • Advanced robotics and AI (artificial intelligence) are reshaping the workplace and employment.
  • Sourcing non-human talent is expanding, and the need for changing skill sets is also expanding the role of the Chief Talent Officer as they deal with the need to integrate both human and non-human talent alike.

Why robots? Well, they help to bridge the skill shortage we keep hearing about, and, they reduce errors and mistakes to zero. Hard to beat that. In fact, China says they are now moving away from unsustainable low-cost labor (this has been fueling their economy and 8 percent GDP growth) and will start using more robots instead.

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Sobering stuff, and something you need to focus on if you recruit, hire, or manage talent.

I wish Mathiason had shared his presentation slides with everyone on the Spring 2013 ERE Expo website, but he didn’t. You can, however, watch this segment from CBS’ 60 Minutes that he excerpted in his talk and that provides a lot of the background and statistics on how robots are soon coming to a workplace near you — if they haven’t already.

Helping Hire Wounded Warriors

Of course, there were a lot more great sessions at the Spring 2013 ERE Recruiting Conference & Expo,and I took in as many as I could, including:

  • The Consultative Recruitment Department: Transitioning Your Team to a New Recruitment ModelYeah, I know that this doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but Mark Mehler, co-founder (with Gerry Crispin) of CareerXroads, moderated a panel discussion that was really interesting because of the observations of the three great panelists from high powered companies — Kim Warne, U.S. talent recruitment leader at General Electric, Kristen McKenna, senior director, recruiting and staffing, at ESPN, and Christi Goodwin, lead staffing manager, university relations, for AT&T. It was worth sitting in on this session just to hear the observations and byplay between these three smart, high-powered talent managers.
  • Qualcomm’s Corporate Integration Program for Warrior Veterans San Diego-based Qualcomm is known for its cutting-edge technology, so that’s why it was surprising to hear how deeply the tech giant has gotten into helping employee “wounded warriors” — military veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. This panel discussion included Navy Cmdr. George Byrd (who serves as the Regional Wounded Warrior Coordinator for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego), Ed Hidalgo, senior director of staffing at Qualcomm, staffing specialist Gerry Borja of Qualcomm, and panel moderator Brenan German, managing principal, Bright Talent Resources. The premise of the Qualcomm program is simple — community outreach that is designed to help veterans find employment, although not all at Qualcomm. This is especially important given the large number of military veterans who now live in the San Diego area, and Tanner Horsley, an engineer at Qualcomm, joined the discussion to tell how it helped him personally when he returned, wounded, from his tour of duty.
  • Globalizing Your Recruitment Function Global Staffing Solutions Leaders Peter DeVries and Francois Scholtz of ADP discussed the ins and outs of recruiting around the globe, and as you might imagine, its an area that most recruiters need to tread carefully in. DeVries and Scholtz managed to deliver some well-needed focus to a topic that many recruiters fail to focus on, or appreciate.

There were other presentations I wish I had gotten to like the one on Integrating Mobile Into Your Overall Recruitment Approach, by Antoine Jenkins of Walmart – but that’s what conferences are all about: getting what you can, and, regretting that you can’t get it all. Maybe next year, at the Spring 2014 ERE Recruiting Conference & Expo in San Diego or the one this September 16-18 in Chicago, I’ll do a better job of taking them all in.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


1 Comment on “ERE Conference’s Final Day: Yes, the Robots Are Coming to a Workplace Near You

  1. Thanks, John.
    Ah yes, robots: “our plastic pals”.

    A couple things:
    …And a lot of the jobs that are disappearing thanks to advances in technology are fairly high paying jobs. In fact, one recent study of employment data from 20 countries discovered that “almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000.”….

    So what will the world look like as robots begin to replace humans in just about every industry that you can imagine?

    A recent Wired article described what this transition might look like…

    First, machines will consolidate their gains in already-automated industries. After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace the workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 pounds all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them, and load them onto trucks. Fruit and vegetable picking will continue to be robotized until no humans pick outside of specialty farms. Pharmacies will feature a single pill-dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting. Next, the more dexterous chores of cleaning in offices and schools will be taken over by late-night robots, starting with easy-to-do floors and windows and eventually getting to toilets. The highway legs of long-haul trucking routes will be driven by robots embedded in truck cabs.

    All the while, robots will continue their migration into white-collar work. We already have artificial intelligence in many of our machines; we just don’t call it that. Witness one piece of software by Narrative Science (profiled in issue 20.05) that can write newspaper stories about sports games directly from the games’ stats or generate a synopsis of a company’s stock performance each day from bits of text around the web. Any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. Even those areas of medicine not defined by paperwork, such as surgery, are becoming increasingly robotic. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.


    Finally, a robotic blast from the past from our friends at Paleofuture:

    Parade Magazine
    January 4, 1959

    All over the world and on the colonies in outer space, everyone is excited about the most popular event of the year. All human activity stops as people breathlessly await the outcome of the world’s championship tiddlywinks contest.

    In this world of the future mankind has little else to be excited about. For earth has been transformed into a “paradise” where incredibly clever robots take care of things. They do the farming, the factory work, run the trains, regulate traffic, enforce the law, cook the meals, clean the houses and distribute a vast wealth of goods and services to which every human being is entitled – merely by being alive.

    Almost nothing familiar on earth today will survive in this robotized world of the future. For instance:

    Only a privileged few will have the right to work at a job.
    The dream of youngsters will not be to grow up rich and successful, but to be one of the favored few workers.
    Juvenile delinquency will take the form of vandalism against robots.
    Everyone will aspire for some kind of “blue ribbon” for an amateur activity, hobby or sport – possibly an award for the best ship model built out of matchsticks or the most colorful rock garden in town.
    Heroes and celebrities will be the persons who devise new parlor games.

    Withering Family Life

    Mankind’s major struggle will be against boredom, with the suicide rate zooming as people lose the race.
    Governments and family life will wither away. Public officials will be replaced by Board of Supervisors to “umpire” games, sports and recreation, and also administer competitive exams which would decide who could work at the few essential jobs left for human beings to do.

    Fantastic? Certainly, by our everyday standards of progress. But every one of these dizzying pictures of life in the future could conceivably become real – when and if man creates robots to do his work for him.

    Man’s mastery of science and technology is advancing by tremendous leaps and bounds. One of his major goals ever since the caveman harnessed an ox to a primitive plow, has been to make something else replace human muscle power. The ultimate “something else” is the robot that acts and thinks like a man.

    For the robot-powered society described here, Parade enlisted the fertile imagination and scientific knowledge of Isaac Asimov, an associate professor of bio-chemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine and a writer of science-fiction stories, including a series on robots.

    Awful to Face

    Wondrous as Asmiov’s robotized world of the future may seem, the man who dreamed it up wants no part of it. Says Asimov, “I’ll be glad that I will have long since been dead rather than face life in such a society!”

    In the transportation systems of the future, electronically guided robots will be the bus and truck drivers. There may be robots that can repair TV sets, fix the plumbing, run IBM machines, act as traffic policemen, read galley proofs, serve as “information” attendants at railway stations.

    “In theory,” says Asimov, “there is no reason why any human job cannot be done by a machine if we can invent a robot brain as complex and as small as the human brain. Under such circumstances, there is no reason why a robot couldn’t mentally be capable of doing anything a human can.

    “But who will need man then? Man will die off of simple boredom and frustration.” The reason, Asimov points out, is that comparatively few people can be usefully creative.

    Consider the Joneses, who in a robotized world, have lost their usefulness:

    Mr. and Mrs. Jones would have it easy. Their robot butler would awaken them gently, serve them breakfast in bed and wheel away and wash the dirty dishes. The robot valet and maid would choose the day’s attire and dress them.

    “Free” for the day, Mr. and Mrs. Jones must decide what to do. Mrs. Jones doesn’t have the drudgery of housekeeping. Mr. Jones has no job to go to, since robots are doing nearly all the work. Of course, he could spend the day tinkering with his sailboat, although he knows a robot could tune u p the auxiliary engine more efficiently. Mrs. Jones may decide to work in the garden. Her robot could do this better, but she jealously guards this privilege.

    Some people – the “aristocracy” in this strange robot society – would be entitled to work.



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