Mike Train, President of Emerson Discusses AI/Automation’s Impact On Jobs

People are concerned about their jobs being replaced by AI/automation and robots, but what do manufacturing leaders actually see? Is our fear misplaced? Mike Train, President of Emerson and I agree: AI / Automation will create more jobs not eliminate them. Perhaps creating more jobs than people.

Mike Train President of Emerson
Mike Train, President of Emerson

In this interview on The Justin Brady Show Mr. Train explains one big reason for this is because we have a huge demographic trend with fewer people moving into the workforce, as more people retire. Baby boomers are one great example. AI and automation may be the best way we keep our facilities up and running, safe, more sustainable, and productive.

Emerson is working hard on this by investing in training, their people, and STEM initiatives.

Train isn’t the only one who sees a positive future and an abundance of jobs resulting from AI and Automation. Past podcast guest Sean Chou, founder of Catalytic also agrees that AI and automation aren’t antagonists to a robust workforce, but protagonists for the future of human-centric work.

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Interview Transcript With Mike Train

This interview was transcribed by Rev. I can’t speak highly enough about them. Try it here and get $10 off >

Mike Train: Great to be here, appreciate it.

Justin Brady: It is the Justin Brady Show, thank you so much for joining me every week. Recently, I wrote an article in Quartz about why I don’t think … I actually think AI and automation are going to be really great for the workforce. So, what better person to have on, than Mike Train, the President of Emerson?

Justin Brady: Mike, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Mike Train: Great to be here, appreciate it.

Justin Brady: You guys are a giant company, you’re pretty much in everything. You make sensors, controllers, HVAC systems, monitoring platforms for commercial and residential, refrigeration. You even make that InSinkErator. We have one of those in our house, by the way, and we love it. You guys are all over the place.

Justin Brady: Here’s the thing, manufacturing is very much struggling to find talent these days, and many have told me in the next 10 to 20 years, it’s going to get even harder as Boomers retire. My first question’s a big one. Why do people fear AI and automation taking all the jobs? It doesn’t seem to be playing out that way.

Mike Train: Well, I kind of feel the same way about it you do, Justin. We do have this huge demographic trend, it’s not just the United States. It’s in Europe, it’s in Japan, it’s even in China. Around the world, we’ve got this demographic challenge, that there’s going to be less people coming in behind, for those that move to retirement.

Mike Train: We’re going to need every body, I think, that’s available to us, across industries, across the economy. I think automation’s going to be viewed as something that’s going to help us be able to manage all of that.

Justin Brady: Right, absolutely. I agree. But, where’s the fear coming from? Why are people so scared of this?

Mike Train: Well, I think for 30 years, if you think back to maybe when personal computing started, we’ve been on this technology movement, we’ve been on automating businesses, there’s been a lot of … Over time, there’s been efficiencies, there’s more productivity, versus the number of people. So, over time, the automation in some industries may have displaced, but it obviously created opportunities in other industries.

Justin Brady: Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Train: The creation of Silicon Valley, and everything else out there in the world. I think there’s people that look back at that, and are worried. But, I think the realities are every job in the world now is going to have a digital component to it, and I think having those workflows, and some of that automation connecting everybody and what they’re doing is going to be very helpful to everybody, to get the next step of productivity, if you will, in the economy.

Justin Brady: I mean, automation, AI, all these solutions, they’re obviously going to change something. You and I, it sounds like we agree. You and I agree that it’s not a bad thing they’re going to change, but obviously something’s going to change. What does change in manufacturing and energy?

Mike Train: Well, if you think about our customer base, we do a lot of automation for customers in industries like pharmaceuticals, people that are refining oils, the minerals and mining folks, paper, food and beverage folks. All these different folks are trying to always be better at what they do going forward, and they usually find that automation is part of the strategy they have, to being better informed, using the sensors more appropriately, having more information. Being able to, maybe, collaborate across organizations better, because things come out of silos, they can be shared better within their enterprises.

Mike Train: I think automation sitting there, really in a place that can really help these companies, be competitive, be productive, be safer, be more reliable, have less emissions’ intensity, or less energy intensity. All of those things, I think, are what people have been turning to us on, on the automation front, seeing if we can help them make the next steps in their progression of whatever they’re doing.

Justin Brady: Yeah. I think a lot of people overlook what you just said. I think a lot of people look at AI automation through one lens, which is a robot is going to take my job away. But, they don’t look at AI and automation increasing efficiencies of that same person’s job, or making their job more safe.

Mike Train: Right. No, I think the promise of automation, and certainly the AI, and models, and analytics, and all the tools, is hopefully just going to get people even more insight than they’ve had. A lot of our customers have things inside of pipes and tanks. Well, if you have more insight to what’s going on in there, you can have better outcomes, you can have safer outcomes.

Mike Train: I think a lot of this is going to have to do with just getting better points of view, better perspectives on things.

Justin Brady: No, absolutely. Now, people will claim, and business leaders will claim, and I do think they’re right, that the current workforce is going to be disrupted in some capacity. I mean, I don’t think it’s bad for the overall jobs as a whole, I think AI and automation create more jobs than they displace by a large margin. But, some people think that people in current jobs, that may be displaced. I would even argue they won’t be, but some people argue that, of these current jobs that are displaced, are these people just out of luck? Or, not?

Mike Train: I don’t think so. I work with a lot of companies, I meet lot of companies, I go on their premises, to see what they’re up to. I think there’s a lot of education happening inside of companies, inside of industries, throughout the lifecycle of our people that are working in these industries.

Mike Train: They’ve all, I think, have gone to work on enhancing their workflows, putting more digital information in the fingertips. We have this mobility of information now. We have an ability to have a device in our pocket, that gives us more insight, rather than having to walk back to a control room, or go somewhere else to get information. I think all the nature of the jobs are changing just a little bit, and we have to go at the right pace. We have to make sure people can absorb the change, they can also absorb the tools.

Mike Train: But, I think there’s a lot of educational aspects to what’s going on nowadays, throughout somebody’s career, and throughout somebody’s work, I think that support is there. I see that in all kinds of ways.

Justin Brady: A lot of people argue it isn’t, and I totally disagree with that. But, what are some ways, specifically, that companies can do, to train from within, and find this talent? If they can’t find it out there, they’ve got to train it from within. What are some ways companies are doing that?

Mike Train: Yeah, given how hard it is to find talent on the outside, everybody’s competing for talent. I think everybody’s throwing their weight in, to try to bring skills, bring the tools, bring these automation tools, bring the skills into the picture. Then, subsequently recruit for people to also have those things.

Mike Train: I think everybody’s been dealing with change management, and the human side of change management, as well as the technology pieces that people like to talk about. I think they’re dealing with the up skilling of people. We even have our own education that we sell to our customers, we sell equipment that they can train. Sometimes, they’ll buy complete training programs from us. You can just see it all the way across industry, that I think there’s a lot of re-skilling, up skilling, educational activities taking place.

Mike Train: So, if these jobs, they just turn a little bit, they just increment 10, or 20, or 30 percent, with a little bit of digital edge to them, so that companies can make progress, and can bring these workers along.

Justin Brady: So, are you suggesting that companies themselves, if they’re going to complain about the workforce, or if they need a better workforce, they should just train it up themselves? And, if they do see any roles being disrupted, or that may phase out in the next 20 years, they should just take those workers and train them into better roles. Is that basically what you’re suggesting?

Mike Train: Well, I would suggest it’s an all of the above solution.

Justin Brady: Sure, that’s fair.

Mike Train: They’re certainly doing parts of that. I think, they’re being great partners with the educational forces, as well, trying to provide those apprenticeships, and those touchpoints. And to guide the competencies they need, and the people that are coming out of educational … the young people.

Mike Train: We’ve got these digital natives now, that are turning 18, and 20 years old, coming into the workforce, 22 years old, that they’re pretty natural, and pretty native on a lot of these things. So, for them, this is not a huge leap, I think, when they come to these industries, almost expecting the tools to be digital in nature.

Justin Brady: Yeah. One of the things I really want to ask you about is how you guys are finding, keeping, or training talent? Because again, we both agree on AI and automation not taking away jobs from the economy, but dramatically adding jobs to the economy.

Justin Brady: One of my clients is doing this right now. It’s a company called Accumold, they make microscopic, little thermoplastic parts for med devices, all sorts of stuff like that. They have a strategy right now, called the Accumold Scholars Program, and they’re basically telling students in high school, “We will pay your entire college, we will give you a part-time job, on the job training, we will pay you for the training. Then, when you graduate through a degree we put you through, and pay for your college degree, we will give you a job.”

Justin Brady: They’re even having a tough time, filling those roles. I see people freaking out about AI automation disrupting their job, but then I see, on the other side, what you’re probably dealing with something similar at Emerson, that you guys are desperate for talent. A lot of organizations are willing to pay through the nose, and it’s still difficult to find. Are you seeing this? And, do you have any solutions?

Mike Train: We see that, absolutely see that. That’s one of the reasons why our company, I think Emerson’s been well known for, really advocating young people. I mean, we’re talking very youthful people, to consider and contemplate the STEM type of educational experiences, and then leading into the STEM related capabilities in a career. We try to engage youth on that, students on that, educational institutions on that, parents on that. It’s really important that we get people to be open to seeing that, early enough in their student or academic life, so that they can start to take the steps towards coming to these industries, with more of that preparation.

Mike Train: I think there’s been tremendous response to this. I happen to be on a Board of a school here in St. Louis, it’s a two-year technical institute. Typically, you would think for 18, 19, and 20 year old people, but they’re actually working with high schools to do overlap programs, between the high school education, and the technical education. They’re also creating pathways to Bachelor’s degrees, on top of that.

Mike Train: They’ve had a lot of people coming back through them, from later on walks in life, people coming back at 26 years of age, that want to now go get that skill, that technical skill. And, we’ve seen that with our Military folks coming back, armed with some wonderful skills, and we’ve just got to figure out a way to grab them, organize them, and put them out into our work places.

Mike Train: I mean, there’s all kinds of strategies, I think, that we all have to work on, to create this environment of really making sure people understand the things that are available to them, and how they can prepare for them.

Mike Train Interviews continues below.

Mike Train Interviews continues.

Justin Brady: I mean, I hear it all the time, when … This is what the theme of this interview is, AI and automation disrupting jobs. But then, I talk to people like you, I talk to manufacturers, and they’re thinking, “My word, even if we put AI and automation solutions, and we’re able to automate a whole bunch of jobs, we still can find enough people to cover this stuff. We cannot.”

Justin Brady: I mean that seems to be the problem, is that we just can find enough people, because things are growing so fast. But, there are naysayers that will just believe there are some companies that are not going to invest in educational opportunities, they’re not going to up skill their people, they’re just going to cross their arms and frown. If people don’t do this, if they don’t invest in their people, if they don’t invest in educational opportunities, and they don’t try to up skill their force, what happens to them?

Mike Train: No, I’m with you on that. I think you can’t put your head in the sand on this thing. I think, all companies, or government officials, or educational leaders, I think everybody’s involved in this topic right now, looking hard at this, and trying to make this happen. You see it in communities all across the US, and frankly, you see it all around the world.

Mike Train: The benefit I have at Emerson, in the role I get to play, I get to get around. Everybody around the world is really taking this topic on, and facing this, and trying to come up with the right strategies to fill the gap, if you will, to go forward.

Justin Brady: Yeah. Let me ask this. To flip this whole conversation on its head, do you think AI and automation, on its current pace, is sufficient to fill the labor gap? Do you think that technology is sufficient, or do we really, desperately need a lot more people in the next 10 to 20 years?

Mike Train: I would certainly vote for more people. I think the automation helps a lot, I think AI type of technologies, and the analytics, and some of the things we can do there, certainly helpful, certainly bring a lot more insight to business, but for these economies to grow, their business need to grow, their employee base needs to grow. I think we’ve got to be looking for all types of people to be coming to the party on this.

Justin Brady: Yeah, I’m glad you said that, because that’s one of the things I hear a lot, and has been the theme. People are panicking their not going to have jobs in the future, because AI and automation, but like I said, I’ll say it again, every time I talk to someone like yourself, the fear that today’s manufacturing, and energy, and a lot of executives have, are that they aren’t going to be able to find enough people moving forward, in the next 10 to 30 years.

Justin Brady: Mike, if people are hearing this, they like your vision, and they want to work at Emerson, or they want to come alongside your company, and get a career there, how do they reach out to you guys? How do they learn more about what you’re up to?

Mike Train: I think, like many companies, we’re very social media aware, we’re trying to really promote the company. Emerson doesn’t have the benefit of being a retail name if you will, right?

Justin Brady: Yeah.

Mike Train: Like others, so we have to go out and build that awareness around what we do around technology, and engineering, and manufacturing. Again, the industries we serve, I would suggest, are kind of noble. We’re powering, providing, helping customers provide all the energy that gets used, the power in our houses, having that ability to have medicines, having that ability to have safe food throughout the cold chain, if you will. People move it, and it’s refrigerated, and comes to market.

Mike Train: We have to go out and tell our stories, about how we’re really impactful, and really relevant to the future we have, as we go forward. Again, thinking about how, in broad definitions, how the automations really going to impact life going forward.

Justin Brady: Sure. Mike, go ahead and give out your website, so people can find you?

Mike Train: No problem. It’s very straightforward. It’s www.Emerson, E-M-E-R-S-O-N.com. Hopefully, you’ll find all kinds of good stories there, we try to tell stories there about our customers, the impact that our technologies, and maybe more importantly our domain knowledge, our people, our expertise has, really trying to impact things as we go forward, here. We tell a lot of stories about our customers, and all the things they’re doing. You can pick the topic, whether it’s energy, whether it’s medicines, whether it’s factory automation, whatever it is, cold chain, comfort, professional tools. We’ve got all kinds of things there for you.

Justin Brady: You guys have your hands in everything. Like I said, thank you for making the InSinkErator, we love that thing. It’s awesome.

Mike Train: It’s a great product. You know what? By you choosing to take your food, and putting it through that system, there’s somebody on the other end of that system that can capture that as an energy form, as a gas. It’s good for the world to be doing that.

Justin Brady: President of Emerson, Mike Train, thank you so much for joining me and the listeners today, I truly appreciate it.

Mike Train: Justin, it’s been a lot of fun, thank you.



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