Building a manufacturing dream team

Everyone who calls manufacturing a career tries each day to get better at their jobs, to better serve their customers and their markets.


My favorite statistic from the 2012 Summer Olympics: 85 different countries won medals at the game in London, from the 104 medals captured by the United States to the single bronze medals won by Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Hong Kong. Not every nation can win, but 204 nations competed and more than 40% walked away with something to share with the home folks.

There’s a lot of pride in those achievements, and that pride is universal. When you saw a close-up of an athlete’s smile after achieving something amazing on that global stage, could you ever be sure what country the athlete came from? A smile is pretty much the same everywhere. It is the similarities among all of the athletes of the world, and not their differences, that make the Olympics truly special.

That can be said about manufacturing around the world as well. Not everyone has the infrastructure, the investment, the education, or the talent to compete with the world’s manufacturing powers. Everyone who calls manufacturing a career tries each day to get better at their jobs, to better serve their customers and their markets. Their willingness to compete deserves our respect and our admiration.

Once the workday begins, your job is to win the day—with better productivity, fewer lost workdays due to accidents, and the highest quality products on the market. To do that, you need three things: a manufacturing plan, a training schedule that turns that plan into consistent productivity, and talent. It is that final element that is in increasingly short supply.

No one in manufacturing needs to have the skills gap explained to them, and it does appear both major party candidates for president and the popular media finally have caught on to the issue. This is not about creating jobs; the jobs are there, waiting to be filled. This is about the failure of schools, government, potential workers, and especially manufacturing as an industry to fully grasp the problem and create dynamic solutions to address the issue. If we started today with a comprehensive solution to the skills gap issue and funded it fully with a combination of public and private funds, it will be five years before we fully realize its benefit. That’s five years where we won’t have the people we need to maintain and grow our manufacturing base.

Put in context, another entire Summer Olympics will have come and gone in Rio de Janeiro before we start to see improvement. And that’s if we start today.

So while a national solution eludes us, what can each manufacturing plant do? Let’s go back to our three basics:

  • A manufacturing plan: Are you measuring all you consume in raw materials each day—including energy? Do you have your workstations set up to enable peak efficiency? Are you driving that efficiency throughout your supply chain? Do you value safety above all other considerations?

  • Training: Very simply, do your people know what is expected of them individually, and do they have the tools to achieve those goals? Do they also understand how what they do helps the plant achieve all of the goals that are part of the manufacturing plan?

  • Talent: We’ve talked about having enough talent, but do we have the right talent? Put another way, if you had to start all over again from scratch, would you keep the same team?

This is what the U.S. Olympics basketball teams do every four years. The coaches are charged with finding not just the best players, but the best players who can work together to achieve the goal of winning. Talent is a significant component of that equation, but so is the ability to subjugate the personal goals to achieve what is best for the team.

There’s another side to this issue, of course: would your team want to keep playing for you? Are you delivering a clear vision and a strong sense of teamwork? Are you valuing the individual talent and surrounding it with similar talent? Not everyone is LeBron James; everyone can be a valuable member of the team.

This is an interesting time to be in manufacturing. If I were a skilled manufacturing worker I’d be keeping my eyes peeled for ways to enhance my career arc, and if I were a plant manager I’d be looking to recruit more talent from other plants, regionally and nationally. There’s no doubt the best manufacturers aren’t waiting for someone else’s solution; they are creating their own Dream Team, and making it better every day.

In manufacturing, as in basketball, you can build a Dream Team if you can articulate the goals, find the talent and get them to execute your vision for excellence.

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