Straight talk on the future prospects for reviving manufacturing - Part 3

Friday, May 20, 2016

This report is presented in a three-part series in Target Online in May. It is an in-depth discussion of the Skills Gap Problem we are facing and will be published in three parts:

•    Part 1 The Challenge – What obstacles are companies facing with closing the Skills Gap?
•    Part 2 The Options – What actions can be taken to close the Skills Gap?
•    Part 3 What we have to do differently – What are new and creative ways to close the Skills Gap?

Part 3 What we have to do differently – What are new and creative ways to close the Skills Gap?

The “Do Differentlys” to get There
Experience in bringing high school aged candidates to the manufacturing workplace taught us that the five Remedial Skills can be taught in (8) days instead of the usual 16 week school semesters.  And that accelerated skills classes, with immediate certificate awarding, keeps students  involved and attentive through to course completion. Further, we learned that including employers in both providing instruction and providing workplace classroom sites adds a reality factor to  the coursework and it also works very well.  Can't afford it? So, what are your most recent retirees doing one afternoon a week that would prevent them from representing your company's skills needs for you? How much could that “temp help” cost? Some are grateful that their former company asked them to help in this way to ensure that the student candidates replacing them know "the way to do it right." These unconventional teaching methods both appeal to today's youth and work better for them because new entrants can actually learn by doing.

This first set of “ready to learn a job” remedial certified skills classes includes foundation disciplines such as Safety, Workplace Math, Job Instruction, Blueprint Reading, Quality Metrology, & Work Protocols and would then be followed by either an Internship/Apprentice placement for a summer job or a part-time work co-op experience after school or during a vacation period. That trial period experience would then be followed with a contingent hiring decision at graduation and a plan for continuing on-the-job training in certified coursework in the workplace. During the trial period a student candidate could be additionally certified in employer specific knowledge classes like Creative Problem Solving, Team Collaboration, Conflict Resolution, Communication Skills, Process Controls, Lean Methods, and Critical Thinking. These courses provide an added level of a Foundation of Disciplines that assure an employer that a job candidate is worth investing in for more advanced skills training. Completing these are also a predictor of success for the more advanced mechanical, electronics, mechatronics, automation, and robotics disciplines of the modern manufacturing workplace.

All certified skills should be portable and stackable for the student, tentatively leading to a potential associate degree in cooperation with a local technical school or community college. Withdrawing at any time needs to be an option for the student. School cooperation should also include accumulating college credits.

Introducing the Latest into the Game
In their technical school programs many students learn about Lean and Six Sigma and they know how to apply them, just not where in your shop to apply it. They most certainly do not want to work with machines and equipment that is older than they are. They shouldn't have to. At a minimum, rearrange the furniture on the shop floor to equalize the familiarity of old and new associates with dated processes to be improved. Every rearrangement induces some improvements, if only to the housekeeping.

Millennials see mindless machine tending to produce batches of parts as contrary to what Lean and JIT processes they have learned. They see instead a machine cell producing to Takt Time, not to quantity standards. They know how to apply Six Sigma to calibrate a computerized new machine for flawless startup, but they envision rearranging other nearby machines in a cell to take advantage of the CNC labor savings by redistributing the work. They expect to see a Value Stream Map so that they can synchronize output to customer demands. They worked in teams in school and expect to work in teams in the factory. Not all students come “shop ready.” The employer perhaps needs to develop on-boarding programs to align this generation to the existing workplace. Companies need to provide on-boarding programs, mentors and mentoring, and set and review 90 day goals and objectives that measure new associate progression to higher levels on their career paths.

Employers need to engage with the schools thru Adopt-a-School programs to assist the schools to better define and prepare the workforce for today's manufacturer. They need to have their skilled associates serve as hands-on instructors, and guides to students visiting a factory site. Currently only 4 percent of employers have a relationship with their area schools. These schools are their prime suppliers of their most important assets-“people skills.” Is this really a function that can be outsourced to temp agencies? All other supplier partners are subject to inspections, feedback, and formal communications. Local schools need that too. These kinds of disruptive changes need to precede buying the new gadgets.

Disruption is Uncomfortable, but Well Worth It
If employers are unwilling to embrace these disruptive new advances in work methodology to attract these new entrants to the manufacturing workforce, then these bright young job applicants will seek a young, new, and agile startup manufacturer that has them. These new manufacturing startups may then become the competitive disrupter to the "same-old, same- old" conventional manufacturer that chooses to remain out of date and on an easier to follow, but downhill path.
The experience some companies have had is that an infusion of today's best technologies along with its best youth brings a competitive advantage in speed, quality, customer satisfaction, morale along with a 30 percent or more increase in productivity. It is a proven fact that engagement, teaming, technology, Lean manufacturing and other best practices work best in a "greenfield" situation, unencumbered by stubborn legacy practices. That greenfield condition can be achieved with an infusion of new young, talented fellow associates working together with senior associates serving as trainers, mentors, and coaches, all acting in a spirit of continuous improvement.

Employers need to get to know this promising new generation of students as well as the bedazzling technological hardware they can bring to bear in order to integrate them together to accelerate growth. Some college engineering graduates are “reverse mentoring” their senior managements because they had the most advanced software and technology in school. Companies many times fail to upgrade and have fallen behind in the latest advances. New  blood can “kickstart” a breakthrough in this way. There is not much room left to do more of the same old, same old. Manufacturers need to find new definitions of the old work, augmented with much better shop practices and new gear that attracts a new technologically adept workforce who can apply it.

Kenneth J. McGuire is President of Management Excellence Action Coalition, an international education and counseling firm to manufacturing and operations companies and is Director of AME’s Scholarship Program.  As an educator on these
topics, he is a U.S. leader in advancing the trends of 'best world practices' and applying them in operations management.