Jason MacFarlane leads the Advanced Manufacturing within Cleantech Venture Services at MaRS Discovery District, supporting startups with product development and manufacturing while leveraging industry collaborations. In this interview, he discusses how Canadian stakeholders — from students to universities and industry employers — need to embrace the fourth industrial revolution to remain at the forefront of advanced manufacturing.

Mediaplanet: Will robots really be taking over the future workforce?

Jason MacFarlane: Robotics, automation, and advanced technologies will have a dramatic impact on the workforce, but it will be an enabler and not an eliminator. Work will change, and some jobs as they are today will be eliminated, but history shows that technology constantly changes how we work. I believe we can count on that lesson to continue into the future.

Technology empowers us, it allows us to be more efficient and frees us to do more in areas where contributing more value is desirable. Implementing automation increases productivity and generally drives business growth. Companies that implement automation solutions displace some jobs but typically grow in overall employment because they become better companies. 

MP: How do we upskill the existing workforce?

JM: Upskilling the existing workforce needs to start with sharing an understanding of how people fit into increasing high-tech manufacturing environments. Industry needs to collaborate closely with colleges and universities to provide relevant courses and training that meet the workforce demand of the future. This practice needs to be fluid and collaborative. Companies should include workers in finding ways to leverage new technology to do things better. This shift toward advanced technology should focus on empowering people with new tools, which culminates in organizations being stronger as whole.

MP: How will manufacturers integrate advanced technologies in order to remain competitive?

JM: Incorporating new technologies into existing operations requires a rethink of how things are done, which is generally not an easy task. Technology developers like Festo, Universal robotics, and Otto (to name a few) can assist with identifying solid applications for advanced technology solutions that solve real problems. A manufacturing super cluster can also be of great benefit for organizations to collaborate to solve big challenges and leverage that learning across multiple organizations. A commitment to tech adoption, and “buy in” from the entire organization, is essential for success. Learning together is the fastest path forward for creating the major changes needed.