In response to a post a few days ago called "How About Multi-Skilled Managers?" two emotional responses were logged in almost immediately – one from "Bill" who wrote a disparaging piece about unqualified managers and the ‘strategy of the week’ approach he had experienced on the shop floor of a big machining plant, and an equally passionate response from "Mike" who defended management and trashed negative guys like Bill.
The matter of people is a real big problem in American manufacturing and a real big problem with lean. While I know nothing about either Bill or Mike, who they work for or what the history is in each case, I do know a lot of people who think like either Bill or Mike. Their attitudes about each other and lean are not uncommon. Anyone who wants to know just how ridiculously polarized management and the production folks can be ought to spend a few minutes scanning the posts to the Auto Talk web forum of the Detroit News. They go way beyond work issues and get right to each other’s family lineage from time to time.
This big old can of snakes needs to be opened, and now is an ideal time to do it. I’m off to Las Vegas for the International Six Sigma / Lean Conference all next week and will be away from my blogging post, so I thought I’d throw a week’s worth of gasoline on the fire, then get out of town, leaving Kevin and the rest of you to deal with the inferno. I’m blogging on the installment plan, and this is the first, with several more scheduled to pop up throughout the week.
The polarization between the hourly folks and management is primarily a management problem and it is management’s responsibility to fix it. Most of what I have to say will be aimed at that group, however, Bill – you are way beyond needing to wake up and smell the coffee. You and the guys working in your plant are being buried alive in an avalanche of coffee beans and you’re sleeping through it.
You say, "Dumbing down your hourly employees by moving the plantsite to an impoverished part of the country where wages are in the toilet is no way to produce a quality product." Just who are those "dumbed down" people, Bill? and in what "impoverished part of the country"? Are you talking about the machinists at the Toyota engine plant in West Virginia? or at the Toyota assembly plant in Kentucky or the Nissan plant in Mississippi? I don’t know where your plant is Bill, but the people in those plants are kicking everyone’s butt in the U.S. in terms of cost, quality and delivery, so it seems safe to me that they are kicking your’s too.
Or maybe you are talking about the aerospace machining companies clustered around NASA in Huntsville, Alabama. Or did you mean the Shingo Prize winning Raytheon plant in Tucson? or perhaps the BAE Systems plant in South Dakota that cut the manhours in half for the Mk41 Vertical Launch Systems and , along the way, made defects virtually non-existent and simply does not miss on time shipments. How about the aircraft engine turbine machining outfits in North Carolina and Oklahoma? Is that who you meant? You see, I see a lot of great American manufacturers in just about every part of the country and I haven’t found the dumbed down ones yet.
As a quality person, you must have some math skills – so I am sure you can work out the numbers.
You say $14 an hour is not enough for skilled machinists like you and your comrades. OK, let’s say we gave you a machine, a heap of material, and 14 bucks. You say you would be willing to work for 30-40 minutes. At the end of that time, there would be a pile of finished parts.
Now let’s say we went to one of those dumb guys in the impoverished regions. He would work the whole hour and there would be an even bigger pile of finished parts.
But it gets worse, Bill. Now let’s say we gave the same machine, same material and same $14 to a Mexican guy. He would have some problems, crank out a few defects and work a little slower, but even after all of that, he would leave a pile of finished parts bigger than either American guy – in fact, about ten times bigger.
But its gets even worse than that. Do the same deal with a Chinese guy and the resultant pile of parts would be 30 or 40 times bigger than yours.
Traditional old American machinists are good – but no better than the new American machinists. While there may have been some shade of truth to the value of the tradition of machining in the Rust belt and the East Coast 30 years ago when that rationalization first came forth, we are long past that now, Bill.
And while you and your friends are better than your Mexican and Chinese counterparts, you are not 10, 20 or 30 times better. You seem to have a very misguided notion of what the fundamental problem is, Bill. The fact is that the world’s buyers of machined parts can find a better deal overseas than what you and your compadres have to offer. You – personally – are not competitive. That is the problem with American manufacturing. Management did not create that problem – getting management off your back will not solve that problem. The unions cannot solve that problem, and the government cannot solve it. You want to be paid 25 times more than other people for the same work. No law and no contract can make that math work. You telling management to go away and let you manufacture the way your daddy and his daddy did it will not work.
Your company is trying to minimize the damage by becoming lean. Lean will never close the gap between you and the Chinese machinist. It might, however, help to create enough savings elsewhere in the stream of production to offset your premium. Your company becoming lean is the only hope you have. It would behoove you to be cooperative. Undoubtedly, your company has some managers who are hard to get along with, and they make mistakes, and go about lean the wrong way. That is pretty common. But it does not change the fact that lean is the only hope of saving your job, so I think maybe you ought to quit complaining, quit badmouthing other American machinists, quit criticizing your management, and figure out how to help.
The alternative, my friend, is for your plant to close. In that event, you have a lot more to lose than the ‘runny nosed frat boys’. It has been my observations that runny nosed frat boys with MBAs have much better prospects out in the job market than overpaid machinists with bad attitudes.