It is probably pretty hard to find reasons to be thankful if you are one of the 30,000 GM employees whose head is on the chopping block right next to the family turkey, or the 4,000 Ford managers with thousands of hourly jobs to be announced in another month or so, or if you are among the thousands of Delphi employees whose pay is likely to be cut in half. I believe, however, that those folks who think like I do, that every hardship that comes along has a purpose, and who take this as the shove necessary to take a fresh look at what they do for a living, will find that this could be the time they look back on as, perhaps, the best thing that ever happened to them.
The National Association of Manufacturers just published a study that says 80% of America’s manufacturers are concerned about a shortage of skilled workers. I know where they can find them. Today the UAW blasted Delphi management for the executive compensation provisions in their bankruptcy filings. Some execs stand to get $5 million or more for steering Delphi through the next year. The UAW sees this as a tad hypocritical as Delphi is pushing to cut hourly pay by a little more than 50%. They’re right. Delphi thinks that $26 an hour for what is often darn little work is ridiculous. They’re right, too.
They are all caught up in a very strange and very bad world. The workers and middle managers in the auto industry need to realize that they do not have to live this way. There is a great big country out there where work life is not a never ending war between workers and management, workers and their unions, unions and management, and middle management and senior management. Most of us would not sell our souls for $26 an hour if it meant having to spend a lifetime under that kind of stress.
The 80% that are looking for skilled workers are generally normal companies. The blog I posted yesterday about the locomotive outfit in Boise is a good case in point. They need 50 people – probably with the same skills the Grand High Wizards in automotive are trying to unload. I would imagine that the company in Boise is filled with people who gripe about their bosses and think they are underpaid, but they don’t let that stop them from having their kids on the same little league ball team as the boss’s kids, or attending the same church as the boss, or working side by side with the boss on the PTA raffle committee. It doesn’t stop them from sitting down together to find ways to make the locomotive manufacturing process better. I am almost certain the boss there does not think that he should be paid 100 times more than the people who actually work on the locomotives.
Not just in Detroit, but in all of these big, old union companies there is such a distorted view of work and how to treat people that life must be miserable for the folks who spend their lives in that environment. A month ago I wrote about Pella – a very lean manufacturer – one that has an incredible track record for how it treats people. They are opening a plant in Tucson. Get out of Detroit and join the real world, I say, and find out that working in manufacturing can actually be a pretty good way to live.
All of the union workers who do try to get a fresh start in an environment that actually values them will need to go at it with an entirely different attitude. Go in demanding the ‘right’ to spend 10% of your time in the bathroom, whether nature is calling or not, and you won’t last long. Go into it as an adult, acting like one and treating everyone else like one, however, and you’ll do just fine.
Detroit went through this sort of turmoil fifteen or twenty years ago and a big part of the Michigan working population headed to the Southeast looking for opportunity. i think there were more Michigan natives than Texans living in Houston for a while. The smart ones are still there, far from the line of fire, giving scant notice to the latest rantings of automotive management and union leadership. I am certain the overall quality of their lives is much improved as a result of their move to cut GM and the UAW out of their lives.
The bottom line is that lean manufacturing is growing throughout the United States in a big way. One of its core principles is mutual respect for and among all of the people in the company. The chaos in Detroit is proof positive that Detroit management is not pursuing lean in any meaningful way. My advice is, if your employer is not going to implement lean in your factory, that should not stop you from implementing lean manufacturing in your life. With a minor change in zip code, you can be as lean as you want to be.