Rosie, Robots, and Critical Product Cleaning

Everyone in manufacturing – men and women – can benefit from the experiences of “Rosie the Riveter,” an icon of the World War II era.  I was reminded of Rosie while reading a thought-provoking article on LinkedIn that reviews fifty ideas to watch this year. Some trends are disturbing in terms of manufacturing, critical cleaning, productivity, and job security. 

Is your career in danger of being automated out of existence? 

Will your manufacturing activities lose relevance in the near future? Read on to learn about predicted problems. Even better: discover solutions!

We can do it

“Rosie the Riveter” became a powerful force during World War II; “we can do it” was her slogan.  However, when the troops returned home, she was expected to quit her job and take care of the house. Today, many of us are the equivalent of Rosie in that while we will not be immediately supplanted by artificial intelligence (AI) and robots, many experts predict that AI will become part of every industry and every job. Others predict that automation will be particularly “challenging” for women (where challenging means “workers will be in deep doo-doo”) because women tend to be employed in more routine tasks than men. (1) 

Experts don’t always agree. As we go to press, another report, based on a study by the Brookings Institution, predicts that men, the young and minorities in manufacturing centers like Toledo, OH will suffer more than larger urban areas.(2)

We can do it; but so can a robot!

All of us, including my male and my female colleagues, can be married to careers with tasks that are easily supplanted by AI and automated out of existence. All of us can land in deep doo-doo.  For example, routine critical cleaning and surface prep can and should usually be conducted “by the book” using established, documented protocols.  Analytical tests and acceptance tests often use standard procedures; standard means “routine.” Cleanroom testing and monitoring can amount to looking at the results spewed out by particle monitors and giving the thumbs up or thumbs down to a cleanroom.  If the task is routine, if results can be quantified, a robot or a sample handling system can often replace a person.

Response to robots: wallowing in unemployment

What do we do as robots encroach on our job skills? We could go fishing or play golf or play cards. We could, like Rosie, bask in the enjoyment of mid-century activities, like preparing tuna/potato chip casseroles and towering, multi-layered gelatin marshmallow deserts. This could be fun!

Get proactive: soft-skills and education

Or, we could look for solutions; potential pathways to solutions can be found in the same article. One is the prediction is that humanity will matter at work. The “soft” skills, the communications skills, the ability to interact and connect are much more difficult to automate.  Well-educated, skilled people have jobs that can be automated out of existence by established recipes and hard decision making criteria. However, given the complexities of manufacturing, the soft, intuitive skills of an experienced, educated worker become crucial when the “doing it by the book” approach clashes with exceptions, when unforeseen problems arise, and when new products are introduced.

Be prepared: doing, not just learning

Another trend is that professionals will focus on doing, not just on learning. This means not just reading the specifications and requirements but also understanding them. It also means communicating successes, failures, and future challenges in a clear, compelling manner.

You can train a robot

Doing involves developing both expertise and behavior – including taking action. To me, this implies developing the way we learn, they way we are educated. Some of you who have attended my critical cleaning programs may have heard me rant about the severe limitations I see in a quote of Ernest Carroll Moore, the First Provost of UCLA that is carved above the proscenium arch at UCLA’s Royce Hall. “Education is learning to use the tools which the race has found indispensable.” While the words have generated controversy, they remain in place. The words have some truth; but they are not sufficient for the world of 2018 and beyond. It’s why Ed and I are convinced that employee education is far superior to employee training.

Our idea for 2019: learning how to learn

We have to grasp the skills of the past. Certainly, society needs to to grasp the collected knowledge of the past – but that’s not enough! My undergraduate degree is from Bryn Mawr College, a fine small school in Pennsylvania. My professors taught that education is learning how to learn. That inherently means learning, doing, testing. Most schools have some terrific teachers.  It’s in your best interest to find them; and good education is life-long. Learning how to learn will enhance our true job skills; and it will promote innovative manufacturing. 

Can we do it? 

We’d love to hear your comments and ideas on how manufacturing can continue to thrive from the soft skills and creativity of the human mind. 


  1. “50 Big Ideas for 2019: What to watch in the year ahead”, Isabelle Roughol with Larua Lorenzetti Soper, Linkedin, December 11, 2018
  2. “Robots Will Take Jobs From Men, The Young, And Minorities,” Tom Simonite, Wired, 1/24/2019, 
  3. “First Provost Has Last Word – In Stone”
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