Andel and Handling: Technology does not correct stupid

U.S. manufacturing is suffering from a skills crisis, according to recent reports in the business media. One Wall Street Journal article cited a Deloitte Consulting study in which respondents reported that 5% of their jobs remained unfilled because they couldn’t find workers with the right skills. One educator the story quoted put it in clear terms: “In the 80s U.S. manufacturing was 80% brawn and 20% brains. Now it’s 10% brawn and 90% brains.”

But after reading through the responses to MH&L’s 2012 Salary Survey, it seems many of you agree that not only can’t employers find new brains to put to work, but the brains already in their employ are being either starved to death or worked to death.

On the starved-to-death side of the crypt, a big problem seems to be that many companies are reluctant to share strategic information with employees. That means plant workers are often kept in the dark about things like warranty expenses. The problem comes when line workers are offered incentives to cut corners on quality in hopes of meeting production cost targets—but are unaware that customer returns are dipping their company deeper and deeper into red ink.

On the worked-to-death side, many of you told us your compensation (input) doesn’t match your productivity (output). Here are a few choice comments:

“The economy is creating an unstable market resulting in lower staffing and greater expectations to do more with less vs. minimal investment.”

“By title I am the warehouse manager, but my responsibilities fall in manufacturing as well. As a result, I am mis-titled and under-compensated.”

“Like in any management job today we wear many hats due to the economy. There are not enough hours in the day to complete all tasks.”

“Managers with positions over a large group like a branch location should delegate effectively and make sure their employees are not overwhelmed with work.”

There’s a message here for employers, but there’s also a clear opportunity for material handling technology providers. Another feature in this edition of MH&L is about the use of conveyors in manufacturing. In it we cite a study titled “Pursuit of Performance Excellence: Business Success through Effective Plant Operations Metrics,” a survey of more than 300 manufacturers done by Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) International. The upshot of this study is that the extent to which a company provides operational metrics to its workers separates leaders from losers.

Conveyor systems providers and integrators, and indeed, any vendors of material handling technology, need to be more than just iron benders and welders. They have a clear opportunity to help customers collect and analyze data from their processes so that employees can be better focused and managers can more effectively manage. The MESA study reported that a far greater portion of business leaders than laggards collect data automatically to assess efficiency and quality. Those laggards represent a huge under-served market.

According to this study, when staff members can assess performance within their shift—their own and that of their process—they have a much better ability to act in ways that improve performance and create better outcomes.

With more companies investing in talent recruitment and development, and with more material handling solution providers catering to that effort, reality TV can reclaim its majority share of the stupidity market.

Follow me on Twitter @TomAndel.

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