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It’s hiring day at Rolls Royce’s jet-engine plant near Petersburg, Virginia. Twelve candidates are divided into three teams and given the task of assembling a box. Twelve Rolls Royce employees stand around them, one assigned to each candidate, taking notes.
The box is a prop, and the test has nothing to do with programming or repairing the robots that make engine parts here. It’s about collaborative problem solving.
“We are looking at what they say, we are looking at what they do, we are looking at the body language of how they are interacting,” says Lorin Sodell, the plant manager.
For all the technical marvels inside this fully automated, eight-year-old facility, Sodell talks a lot about soft skills such as troubleshooting and intuition.
“There are virtually no manual operations here anymore,” he says. People “aren’t as tied to the equipment as they were in the past, and they are really freed up to work on more higher-order activities.”
Call it the automation paradox: The infusion of artificial intelligence, robotics and big data into the workplace is elevating the demand for people’s ingenuity, to reinvent a process or rapidly solve problems in an emergency.
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