Letters to the editor

Manufacturing's past meltdowns don't offer hope for the future I read Bob Vavra's July 2005 Comment with first dismay and then repulsion. I was part of the last great U.S. automotive attrition movement. Describing the difference between sustaining a multi-decade long career and finding oneself suddenly unemployed, eventually finding another lesser job and starting over as "splitting hairs" is v...

09/01/2005


Manufacturing's past meltdowns don't offer hope for the future


I read Bob Vavra's July 2005 Comment with first dismay and then repulsion. I was part of the last great U.S. automotive attrition movement. Describing the difference between sustaining a multi-decade long career and finding oneself suddenly unemployed, eventually finding another lesser job and starting over as "splitting hairs" is very disingenuous.

My family and those of colleagues endured great upheaval and uncertainty. Most experienced significant economic, professional and personal losses. In the months leading to the company's decision to shed significant numbers of employees, along with the nervous tension of seeing yet another industry meltdown we were treated to an unending college hazing/ boot camp mentality to "weed out the weak."

Each day we had to decide if the accrued benefits and possibility of surviving another RIF were enough to accept the 11 to 14 hours of abuse we faced. When the official announcement of job cuts came we were left to speculate, who would stay, who would be encouraged or forced to leave and who would go. Several weeks passed while those "hard decisions" were made for us. A gallows mentality prevailed as our fate was totally out of our hands.

Some, like me were lucky according to your logic. I was offered a transfer. While my wife's stable job remained in St. Louis I could move to the mid East Coast, or Ontario for a 3-to-7 month temporary assignment. In so doing, the company avoided the advertised severance package for those of us too young to retire and whose jobs were eliminated. In the end I took a local job. It had a 20% pay cut, and less than

The retirees were not a lot better off. While many folks plan to retire early and others lust to do so, few rational people suddenly decide in July to retire in December at age 50-to-52, thus reducing their retirement by over 50%. Of course, when faced with the alternative of losing it all or relocating and becoming the new hire at another location, I guess it becomes a good decision. Remember as salaried folk, seniority isn't a factor unless there are no other factors, and then (rightfully) most organizations count your time in present location over total company time.

No, the headlines got it right. "GM to Slash 25,000 jobs" — that's the reality. I have nothing but sympathy for those soon-to-be-former GM workers. Choosing downsizing is so much easier for management than strategically fixing a car line that is retro-70s without meaning to be. Only the American car makers consistently insist that every compact and non-luxury family car they build is unprofitable and then blame their cost problems on the very creative innovative minds that net them billions in good years.

It's funny the successful car makers are doing what Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca, Don Peterson and others did in the past. They concentrate on the car. Each one is targeted for a group of potential customers and meets that customer's expectations for price, style, fit, function, durability and operating cost. Every time our Big 3 remember that lesson they have found themselves constrained by capacity, not competition.

I am in the awkward position of having a high school senior leaning towards engineering. I waver between screaming at him to run, don't walk away, pick a career where you can make a decent living and have a life, or encouraging him to follow his instincts and hone his skills and become a 21st Century engineer.

In articles like yours, I keep hearing of the shortage of skilled workers and emerging manufacturing. Except businesses with addresses like Brazil, Mexico, India or China, I frankly don't believe you. A friend who runs a small local manufacturing concern even related the story of a customers insisting that his product be made in China, assuring that it's not overpriced.

Like the old commercial, "Where's the beef?" Where are these jobs? What skills should my son and his classmates learn to fit those jobs? What can they do to prevent the mid-career and end-of-career bust that my generation faces? I dare you to honestly answer these questions. If you can, then your editorial position is valid. If not, I'm back to repulsed.

D. Sager

St. Louis

Bob Vavra responds: The next story reinforces what every plant manager and industry leader I talk to tells me — the looming skilled worker shortage is real, and the executives aren't sure who will step up to fill those positions when the current workforce retires. Perhaps some of them will come from people such as Mr. Sager's son. Perhaps many displaced workers — even at age 50 — will find a renewed demand for their skills in new industries. If we champion the idea that American manufacturing is important, then we can discuss not just what has happened — which has been traumatic, to be sure — but to look ahead at what's coming next.





The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me