My brother won a golden ticket a few years ago and gave it to our family to visit the Nestle chocolate factory. That’s where I met Ruth & Charlotte (not their real names), working the end of the line for one type of chocolate bar. The final machine would pass them each a few dozen bars and they’d quickly grab a dozen, stuff a box, fold, wrap then another dozen, same thing, over and over.
I asked the manager, next to our oompaloopa (yes, we had short-statued, non-talking actors taking us around that day…felt strange) about why some lines had machines and others had people. “Costs” he said. They were saving up to buy the machines to replace the people at the end of the lines but hadn’t saved enough to replace Ruth & Charlotte yet.
Upon thinking about this, I could see the sentimentality of two lovely people working together for years, having had a stable job that didn’t require much of them but also wondered where they would have gone in their lives if the machines had been built sooner. Would they be doing more fulfilling work?
This all brings me back to my work as a business process consultant, finding myself replacing mindless, relatively expensive jobs with software & processes. Is it wrong that I’m reducing mindless jobs and replacing them with jobs where people’s real skills, personality and talents are amplified? In the end I’m continuing a tradition of replacing switchboard operators, cart drivers, water carriers, home milk deliverers and toilet bucket collectors with a type of technology that carries the mindless load and opens new avenues for higher-skilled work.
In some ways change is always hard and work is more than increasing production by an extra unit per unit of human output. Ruth & Charlotte are beautiful people adding value to the world and I hope their next step is one more step up in terms of creativity and skill.