KEEP POLITICS OUT OF THE WORKPLACE. Nothing poisons your work watercooler like the P-word, and not even the most Namaste-affirming, Crocs wearing; new-age, Silicon Valley CEO would dare tinker with that tried and true principle. But what happens when politics walks into your office looking for a job? It is skilled, can work long hours on little to no sleep, and it will surely be one of your best employees in a long time. Better yet, it is also your most consistent. 

Do you turn politics away for the sake of keeping politics out of the workplace? Or, do you give politics a chance to change your workplace culture?

This is the question facing many mechanical contractors across the country when it comes to integrating robot technology within their human workforce — only, of course, robots can’t just go walking into your job shop; not just yet, anyway.

If the 21st-century tidal wave of startups has taught us anything, it is that our lives could always be better, improved upon by “disrupting” our routine. We’ve shortened work weeks for productivity; opened up our office spaces for sociability; all so we can spend our days parceling together business deals via text message. Not everything sticks, of course, which is the very nature of something “starting up.” However, the idea of someone or something like a robot doing our work for us has always been the fuel behind innovation. But not so innovative that it puts us all out of a job entirely.

Over the holidays, I learned that some people are refusing to use the self-checkout lines at supermarkets and other big box stores because it “kills jobs.” As labor groups all over the country fight to eliminate or limit the use of the machines, whatever line you choose to patronize is officially political. And suddenly, balancing boxes of Easy mac in one hand and cans of cat food in another, I was being forced to pick a side.

Our January 2020 cover story, Employees of the Millennium is my answer. Robots, cobots and other humanoid hybrids are disrupting our labor distribution and will continue to disrupt our lives for the foreseeable future. However, how we embrace this technology in our shops and schools to prepare the next generation of workers is what will ultimately determine our fate as an industry.

As we brace ourselves for a number of shortages that will affect the skilled trades in the oncoming years, labor — in whatever form — is a resource we can’t afford to pass up. Robots are here to help. Politics be damned.