Volume 4, Number 6 - June 6, 2006

Many manufacturers hire only when they have a defined org chart opening, and then look for someone with that defined experience. In sports we call it drafting for need rather than taking the best player available. The New England Patriots (as a Clevelander, it pains me to say this…) have taken bright people with solid physical characteristics, in many cases after a different team had cast that player aside, taught them new positions that build on their strengths, and won 3 football championships so far this decade.

How does that apply to manufacturing? It seems despite the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs over the past several years, the sector faces a significant shortage of experienced, skilled personnel – at all levels, in all operational professions, and in almost all domestic geographies. Demographics suggest that we are only at the beginning of significant supply and demand imbalances. Perhaps, despite the challenges of Asian competition, or maybe because of them, it is time to reevaluate how your personnel strategy supports your manufacturing strategy.

How many really bright curious people has your company rejected for not having the right degree or the right experience? If you had hired them anyway, does your organization have what it takes to help them quickly learn the industry, the company, and the role?

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t bring in slothful slow players uncommitted to winning because he knows he can’t overcome those attributes. But he knows he has the skills, along with his able assistants and a bevy of experienced players who buy into his system, to take the right raw material and turn it into a vibrant contributing member of his team. Similarly, in 1999 Jergens CEO Jack Schron recognized the need for his organization to address the manufacturing skill shortage he saw coming. He created Tooling University, an on-line approach to skill assessment and worker education in the fundamentals of manufacturing and the skilled jobs it requires. TU now offers over 200 courses, some in both Spanish and English, to hundreds of companies. Demand is so strong that Schron’s global view of solving his skilled labor challenge through TU has become a profit center.

It is becoming less and less likely that the driven candidate with the right degree, the right experience, the right work ethic, and the right spirit will knock on your front door looking for work. Consider which of those characteristics you could teach, and hire candidates who possess the parts you can’t. This isn’t being less particular; it’s simply focusing more heavily on the things you can effectively improve and not accepting a poor track record in the things you cannot.

Many of you were impacted by businesses and logistics shut down by hurricane Katrina last August. Now the better part of a year later, the New Orleans levy system remains unprepared to protect the area from flooding, and much of the damage lays untouched. You may not be able to do much about that, but you can make sure you have a disaster plan in place to minimize the damage to your company and your supply chain. The need for collaboration with key suppliers and customers seems fairly obvious; don’t wait too long to begin the process.

Fulcrum ConsultingWorks, Inc. All rights reserved.
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