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A Load of Old Rubbish, ER Sanitation Recycling

Stuart White

I remember an HR presentation where, in the middle of a discussion on company drivers, one delegate informed the group that her organisation had re-designated them as transport officers as it was considered more respectful. As though holding down a job as a driver was somehow so demeaning it needed a fancier title to ‘big it up’. 

And it’s not an isolated case. In the UK a chimney sweep now likes to be referred to as a Flueologist, if you please,  the humble dustman is a Sanitation and Recycling Engineer, whilst a Dispatch Services Facilitator is the euphemism for a post office worker. Serious! If you can be serious, that is, when they’re pulling your plonker.

In this new, politically correct workplace everyone’s job title has to be talked up, it seems, though I am not always sure what the rationale is for assigning fancy names for functions. Strange as it may seem, I am given to understand that some people would rather have a grander job title than a pay rise and while this may seem astonishing, upgrading job titles is becoming more and more popular as employers simultaneously try to keep their costs down and their staff happy. 

Embarrassingly, HR is normally behind such initiatives and as a result there is a perceived fine line between effective HR advice and HR baloney. No wonder we are not always taken seriously.  We have only ourselves to blame.  Come to think of it, we probably started it when we decided that ‘Personnel’ was too down-home and we upped it to Human Resources.

In another discussion it was mentioned that HR Business Partners (what transport officers are to drivers, so Business Partners are to HR Managers) should be conversant with financial matters and other line functions in order to sit respectfully at the boardroom table. Nonsense – let’s get one thing straight; HR people should not and do not NEED to become experts in the ‘other areas’ of the business to gain credibility from management.

Their own specific function has gravitas enough of its own to justify their presence in the Boardroom and often this perceived need to be a generalist and talk other people’s talk dilutes the HR function. By becoming generalist they lose their specialist knowledge. They also run the risk of being tripped up with a tricky question.

 ‘Business partners’ – generalists who sit at the big table next to business leaders and help them implement general HR solutions need to be specialists in at least one of the HR “silos” – compensation, benefits, industrial relations, performance management etc.

Generalists should have a specialty… and specialists should also be generalists. No matter how long they’ve worked in their speciality they should NOT fail to review all other aspects and propose in generalist HR terms.  They are there to hold up the umbrella that’s keeping the whole Board dry.

Yet the notion that HR managers should be competent in other areas of the business is nonsense. Why did we elect to study social sciences instead of a B. Com in the first place? Presumably because it interested us and we felt we had a talent for and affinity to the subject, whereas general business studies didn’t appeal. And doesn’t the same thinking apply throughout? 

The marketers don’t want to step over to get experience in HR. Similarly the finance guys don’t want to get any experience in marketing and certainly not in HR because, after all, finance is the ultimate key to the business and so on across the management food chain.  Deep down every specialist manager needs to feel that their department is crucial and that they alone know how it best works.  Except, it seems, for some HR people.

When I hear HR stressing the need to appreciate and understand all aspects of the business it concerns me for two reasons. Firstly for the self-deprecating implication that all other functions are somehow more important and secondly because it implies that there is a need to spend time in the territories of others when no-one ever feels the need to reciprocate – no one is ever seconded to the HR department to understudy us or learn the intricacies of our role.

I believe the main problem with HR function today is that it has lost its way. HR’s role is to co-ordinate and utilise the company’s human resources to improve corporate performance. You are not the social convener, company clown, or therapist, nor are you the travelling departmental trouble-shooter and adviser.  

HR within the corporation should be valued for contributing effective people and people management skills, not for being able to grasp the generalities of other departmental functions.  HR managers, Business Partners or whatever title you want to allocate need to be allowed to carry on measuring and presenting performance and input and that in turn needs to be accepted and respected at the senior levels.

HR is about people – the most important, often unpredictable and dynamic asset the company has. As such it is in many ways harder to understand and affect than money in finance and products in manufacturing and requires a highly sensitive approach. In consideration of that HR needs to be left alone to put into place the positive techniques and tools that have been proven to enhance the workforce.

Performance management ranks high on how the HR experts can determine how much each employee is worth, who to fire, who to promote and even – after tracking trends in employee types – who to consider for recruitment. The use of metrics, evaluations and rigorous employee review interviews helps to create an accurate snapshot of the workforce which is then used to optimise productivity and efficiency within the employee base.

These are the issues we should be grappling with – not silly issues like euphemistic name changes and trying to prove to the finance people they’re not the only ones who can read a balance sheet. Can they read the sub-text in a personal profile or employee assessment? Well, we can.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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