Reprinted from the May 2011 Business column in Metalforming magazine.
By: Michael Bleau
While visiting last month’s crowded logistics tradeshow in Chicago, I spoke with a friend, who is an executive of a near billion-dollar manufacturing company. He shared his frustration in trying to find enough qualified engineering, project management and skilled manufacturing people. Last year his company’s business boomed and is on track for continued growth in 2011, yet they are held back by a lack of qualified prospects available to fill new jobs. What an astonishing contradiction at a time when our nation is faced with a jobless rate hovering in the 9% range. A recent CBS News broadcast echoed my friend’s challenge, reporting that while the number of available manufacturing jobs had doubled from last year, many are not being filled due to a shortage of skilled workers.
There was a time when one could graduate from high school, enter into an apprenticeship program, work hard, earn a good wage, raise a family and retire having spent an entire career with a single company. Those days seem to have died a generation ago as the division between unions and management grew from a healthy balance to a lopsided contest where participants are seemingly blind to the path they are blazing towards mutual annihilation. Enter the government to ‘fix things’ and now we really have the perfect environment to encourage shortsighted, over-managed, under-performing mediocrity. This is not who we are. I still believe that we are an accomplished nation of innovators with character, who hail from solid work ethics and sober decision-making. We get things done! So what happened, where are we going wrong?
Why at a time when so many are out of work is it hard for businesses to fill jobs to fuel growth in manufacturing? Why this high unemployment while jobs requiring skilled individuals go unfilled for months on end? In my opinion, we all collectively bowed to political correctness and simply lowered the bar. We did so with such stunning efficiency across all aspects of anywhere performance is measured that now the caliber of the average individual doesn’t meet the minimum requirements to get the job done. We let entitlement win over hard knocks, we adopted ‘good enough’ as the new ‘best in class’, and we started grading performance on a sliding scale instead of valuing lessons learned. And now we, the manufacturing community, having stood by to watch this unfold are reaping the fruits of our inaction. By allowing routine business distractions to grow into a complete lack of involvement we have empowered others not sharing our passion or experience to speak on our behalf, decide for us and by doing so nearly drive us into the ground.
We need to move fast to fix this before we all succumb to becoming conditioned to gleefully accept failure as success-enough. So how do we turn this around? Certainly not overnight, but that’s not an excuse to start making some hard choices and taking action today. Here are a few opinionated suggestions that should get the ball rolling…
If we are to reinvigorate our manufacturing heritage we must adopt a more conservative definitions of ‘performance’ and ‘success’. We need to teach future generations to embrace hard knocks as opportunities to learn, grow and strive for self-improvement and to persist in a pursuit of perfection. Lowering the bar to make exceptions for something less than perfect, while seemingly kind or empathetic, only accomplishes to create a false self-actualization within the individual it touches and collective weakening of the whole of society. Overcoming obstacles brings out our best qualities and leads to some of our greatest achievements.
Served in various capacities within capital equipment engineering, robotics, project management, sales and marketing.
L&A collaborates with Industry Scope, Prior to L&A Nancy was Vice President of Public Relations for a full service B2B agency.