In a reversal of an increasing trend toward use of robotics as a productivity tool in the auto industry over the last two decades, Toyota has deliberately displaced robots to reinstall humans. Why? Because over time the workforce skills will deteriorate, leading to too many average workers and not enough craftsmen. In turn, the robots can only do what humans program them to do: if humans lose the skills, then the robots ultimately work sub-optimally.
This has resonance with strategic choices in mining 25 years ago when contract mining was first emerging. One of the major mining companies held firm against the trend and deliberately rejected contract mining. Why? Because they were concerned that if they lost a core competence around mining over time they would lose the ability to make judgements around investment decisions in future mines.
Few firms are likely to be facing this issue with respect to use of robots perhaps. But it does raise a core strategic question: when was the last time you explicitly discussed core competencies in your business? Is there agreement across the executive at to what really are core competencies?