Many manufacturing and service companies succumb to competitive pressure by embarking on misguided cost-reduction efforts, failing to take a holistic approach. To be clear, lean is the way to be; lean is not the same as cost reduction. Successful cost-reduction efforts consider the entire enterprise, the entire product life cycle, and, most importantly, the effects that changes will make on customers.
Browsing The Third Degree blog, it is easy to detect my predilection for analogy. Previous posts have been loaded with analogies aimed at making the subject matter more palatable – more interesting, more entertaining, more relatable, and more memorable.
Analogies and other literary devices are useful aids to learning. For example, an understanding of hydraulic systems can be applied to troubleshooting an electrical circuit, or vice versa, through analogy: pressure ≈ voltage, flow ≈ current, pump ≈ battery, valve ≈ switch, and so on. While not always perfect, analogies can provide foundational understanding of a topic, or help clear a mental block occurring in a specific area. Once the subject matter can be grasped at a fundamental level, a student can begin to build on this knowledge base, pursuing more advanced material.
On this date, in 1944, Allied forces launched the campaign that would ultimately liberate northern Europe from Nazi occupation. A great deal has been written about the military efforts to storm the beaches of France and advance inland. Much of this has been intended, at least ostensibly, to honor the soldiers that endured the hardships of war and the commanders that led them to victory. Some of it also commends civilians for their labor and sacrifice in support of the war effort.
Despite all of this, questions remain: Have we truly honored the “Greatest Generation?” What about the previous generations – those that sent their children and grandchildren to war, while food and other supplies were rationed at home?
To truly honor them, we must learn and embody the lessons they have to teach us about fortitude, resilience, and character. Opportunities to hear from them directly are vanishing rapidly. The youngest of this generation are in their 90s, and it is estimated that we lose 372 of them each day.
Last week’s post offered general advice regarding the work of “experts.” Writing it reminded me of a set of articles that I feel is worthy of some direct attention, as the theme becomes increasingly prevalent. Variations on “How to Read 100 Books a Year,” these articles demonstrate the misconception inherent in many of the “expert” articles of the type discussed. The misconception is that the advice given is universal.
Example articles include:
[Link] “How to Read 100 Books in a Year” – Thrive Global
[Link] “How to Read 100+ Books in One Year” – WikiHow
[Link] "How to Read 100 Books a Year" – Observer
[Link] "How to read 100 books in a year (and still have a life)" – Forrest Brazeal
[Link] "How I Read 100 Books in One Year (and How You Can, Too)" – BookRiot
[Link] "5 Steps To Reading 100 Books A Year – AuthenticGrowth
Innumerable “experts” are now able to share their wisdom widely, at the click of a button, thanks to the expansion of social media and blogging platforms. The ability to publish one’s assertions, however, does not ensure the validity or value of the content. There are few limitations on what one can publish.
Consider an example at the opposite end of this spectrum – peer-reviewed journals. Despite the rigorous review process, authors are occasionally discredited after publication of an article. Falsified data, inappropriate research protocols, or inconsistent conclusions may be discovered.
The journal scenario is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that there is a third party (journal editor) responsible for maintaining the integrity and quality of published research that will publish a correction. The bad news is that, many times, the correction may not reach those that rely on the original work, trusting its accuracy. Also, reproductions of the article may not include the correction as an update or attachment.
Unfiltered content does not provide even this imperfect safety net. Perhaps one can leave a comment online, disputing an article’s content or conclusions, but where does that lead? Often, nowhere.
The term sustainability is typically associated with issues such as natural resource depletion, recycling, or other matters of environmental stewardship. To fulfill its social responsibility, however, a company must first endure its own survival. In Getting Green Done, Auden Schendler defines sustainability as “being in business forever.” Achieving this requires long-term planning; the most fundamental plan required defines how the company will attract and develop the talented people necessary to operate the business profitably and responsibly in future generations.
Though it is a significant departure from the usual content, the poem below (don’t worry, it’s not a JayWink original!) seemed an appropriate contribution to this blog. It explains, in part, the purpose of “The Third Degree” – my attempt to “build a bridge” or “illuminate a path” for others to benefit from my experience.
That is not meant to suggest that the “bridges” built here will not sway in the wind; it is not my goal to provide “all the answers.” Capturing all possible variables and nuance that one may encounter is an unrealistic expectation. Instead, I strive to inspire relevant questions – the genesis of real learning.
“The Third Degree” is also an expression of gratitude to other “bridge-builders” – those that came before me, easing my “crossings,” those that work alongside me, and those I have yet to encounter. Finally, as does the old man in the poem, I hope to set an example that inspires others to build bridges along their own paths.
Enjoy “The Bridge Builder.”
A January 16, 2018 article in USA Today reports that tightening labor markets have “provided a financial boon to many full-time employees, who are notching lots of overtime…”
In the January 18, 2018 episode of NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money podcast, called “The Beigies,” was a story about a manufacturing company in the northeast US, originally published in the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book.
"Another industrial firm had 20 unfilled openings in a plant with 100 employees and said they were making up for it with significant overtime. When asked why they didn’t increase wages to fill the openings, the contact said they would have to pay all the existing workers more which would be uneconomic."
Skills Gap Assessment and Closure
Manufacturers possess everything needed to close the skills gap within their organizations. Though outsiders may speculate, a company’s current situation and future plans are only known, with any accuracy, by the managers, directors, and advisors of that company. How a manufacturing site’s local environment, corporate objectives, industry, technology and market trends, and other factors will influence the business in the foreseeable future can only be assessed effectively from within. It is this “inside information” that is critical to the creation of a workforce development plan that will meet the company’s current and future needs.
Indicative of its importance, the first four steps in the process outlined below involve the collection and analysis of information. Information from various sources must be cross-referenced to ensure the most accurate characterization of the company possible. In the fifth step, methods for visualizing the skills gap are discussed, concluding the assessment. Planning and closure of the skills gap occur in the final two steps.
Local Solutions to a National Problem
Public policy can change course with each election. The lack of stability creates a great deal of uncertainty for companies that rely on it to execute certain strategies. Closing the “skills gap” – considered by many to be the most pressing issue facing manufacturers – need not be subject to the volatility of political and bureaucratic wind-shifting. The examples below demonstrate how businesses can disentangle their training needs from public policy debates and create the skills inventory needed in their workforce.
How the Skills Gap Grows
Several months ago, when I first considered writing about this topic, mainstream media, trade press, and social media were all bursting with articles and anecdotes about the impending collapse of our economy caused by a widening “skills gap” in our workforce. Reports have since begun to trickle out that foster a modicum of restrained optimism; however, the public discourse on the topic continues to, largely, fail to present (or actively avoid – you decide) the big picture.
Discussions of the “skills gap” tend to focus on manufacturing industries; in the interest of continuity, I will follow that trend. It should be noted, however, that many of the issues raised are equally relevant to service industries.
The situations that warrant engaging an Operations Consultant are too numerous, and too varied, to ever hope to describe them all in any detail. Some are purely technical, while others involve less-concrete concerns inherent in group dynamics. Some require a response to a short-term crisis, or disaster recovery, while others require the development of a long-term strategy. Some will magnify the challenges by involving multiple levels of management and various groups, internal and external to the organization. These groups may be geographically distant and culturally disparate. They will likely have differing responsibilities, motivations, and levels of autonomy.
While not comprehensive, the preceding should give one a sense of how many “moving parts” could be present in any planning or decision-making process or project execution. The following 7 Reasons to Hire an Operations Consultant is intended to facilitate focus amid such chaos. It can be used to help formulate your thoughts on the situation you face, define your needs, and facilitate preliminary communications with an Operations Consultant.
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