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Automation, the way of the future

Michel Raymond, vice president for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters in Nova Scotia, spoke about the importance of understanding what automation means for individual industries.
Michel Raymond, vice president for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters in Nova Scotia, spoke about the importance of understanding what automation means for individual industries. - Cody McEachern

TRURO, N.S. – With an aging population and fewer youth entering the local workforce, Nova Scotia companies have to embrace technology to secure their future.

“We have to face the fact that in the near future, one out of three people in Nova Scotia will be 65 years old or older,” said Michelle Bursey, senior account manager with the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Bursey served as moderator for a panel of industry professionals who gathered at the Marigold Cultural Centre recently to talk about how technology is changing their industries, and how adapting with automatized technologies could help avoid a dwindling workforce. Truro and Colchester Chamber of Commerce organized the event.

“There just aren’t enough people entering the labour market,” Bursey said, “to replace those who are retiring and, sadly, businesses in Atlantic Canada are lagging behind in terms of implementing and investing in digital technologies. This will have a negative impact on our economy unless we do something about it.”

The panel featured representatives from agriculture, automotive, food service and customer service, and focused on how automated technologies have advanced their businesses and the benefits that came from it, such as with the introduction of electronic order kiosks at McDonald’s.

“A lot of the changes had to do with what customers were telling us,” said panelist Stephanie Jones, owner and operator of eight McDonald’s stores across Nova Scotia.

“McDonald’s did a lot of research and focus groups to determine what customers want, and what they found is customers wanted more convenient ways to get their meals. Now, we have electronic ordering kiosks and mobile ordering, so you can send your order in while at work, and we will walk it out to you when you get here. All of those elements are about customer convenience.”

McDonald’s has gone through dramatic remodelling in terms of technology, adding other automated technologies such as self-cooking grills and automated pop machines in drive-thru to help streamline the McDonald’s experience for both workers and customers.

While automating different processes in a company or industry can bring great benefits such as improved efficiency and less demanding work, the panel also discussed issues automation brings with it, such as those who don’t believe in it or oppose it.

“When it comes to automation, everyone thinks ‘Oh, it’s going to take our jobs,’” said panellist Michel Raymond, vice president for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters in Nova Scotia.

“The real possibility with companies is they can retrain and educate their employees for a different area. The thing with automation is it’s to the point where it seems to shift resources around as opposed to getting rid of them. If the strategy’s correct, automation can support the other things happening within a company and create new opportunities.”

Though some may not agree with bringing new automatized technologies into the workplace, it is hard to ignore the benefits it brings to the various industries and their workers who use them.

“In a nutshell, I’d say the effect of automation on our industry as a whole has been able to not only improve efficiencies on farms but also allow for some farm-life balance,” said panellist Maxine MacLean, communications and research co-ordinator for the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture.

“If you look at commodities like the dairy industry, they brought in robotic milkers because you are required to milk at two set times a day. With these machines, that could allow for a farmer to, say, go to their kid’s baseball or hockey games in the evenings.”

cody.mceachern@trurodaily.com

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