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On March 18 we celebrated the official opening of our new building in Deerlijk, near Ghent in Belgium. The Mayor – Mr. Claude Croes - of Deerlijk honoured us with his presence, and our main guest was Vice Prime Minister Kris Peeters, Belgian Minister of Economy and Employment. www.krispeeters.be
To be honest, I doubted very much that he should come, as Belgium was at the very moment preparing its’ budget in the course of which they were “looking for” more than 2 billion euros, and we could see his excellency on television every day concerning this topic. But sure enough, be it 15 minutes late – of which we were even informed in advance by his Cabinet – he came. Not only did he come, he gave a fairly substantial and, to my mind, highly interesting speech. I must admit that I was impressed by this man. We had met all of 30 seconds before his speech started, but addressed me by name as if he had known me for several years. The way he subsequently delivered his speech, hardly referring to his notes, and with lots of self-denigrating humour making our guests laugh at numerous occasions. The way he afterwards shared a drink with us, chatting with us as if we were life long friends at a reunion. But anyway, let us go to the main topic of his speech: technofobia.
Mr. Peeters of course referred to the fact that many people believe that technology in general, and automation in specific, threatens jobs. Among other, he was referring to a study by ING indicating that in 20 years time, 35% of us would be out of work as our jobs would be done by robots. He refuted this by referring to another study, this time by the World Economic Forum, which indicates that out of 3 children starting school today, 2 would be doing a job which today does not exist.
This, of course, is the crux of the matter. We at Alvey do automation projects all the time. And yes, in the vast majority of the cases these are projects our customers do to reduce labour. However, in over ten years doing such projects, I have not heard of a single case where a customer made workers redundant as a result of our project. People that used to palletise by hand – a boring and back-breaking job – become machine operators, tend to new packaging lines supporting growth, or take samples for the quality department supporting ever improving quality.
Jobs come, and jobs disappear. Every village used to have a horse smith. These people still exist, but they are few and far between. Gone are chief lamp carriers, telex operators, stone cutters, slave traders, coalers in steamships, sword makers, ice carriers, the list goes on seemingly without end. In come installers of antennas for mobile phone networks, programmers of Internet web sites, advisers of search engine optimisation, specialists of car electronics. Just try to think of a job that has disappeared that is more pleasant than one of the jobs that did not exist ten years ago.
The world is ever evolving, and many developments are for the good. Far from threatening our jobs, technology is creating employment, usually highly rewarding and satisfying ones. The very difficulty we, and all of our colleagues, have in finding new qualified staff is maybe sufficient proof of this.
So, all is fine? Well, of course our fast changing world does present challenges. Humanity must take care not to lose important skills such as writing (correctly) and communicating in a coherent way, rather than in snippets such as an SMS or a Tweet. There is nothing wrong with either of them, except if these become our sole ways of communicating to the exclusion of more coherent formats.
Open, frank, coherent and respectful communication is a major, if not the major, ingredient for a successful future of humanity.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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