Manufacturing satisfaction defies simple mathematics

It is said Abraham Lincoln used to figure out math problems by working them out on a shovel covered in coal dust. Gratefully, we have more sophisticated ways of working with numbers today. Whether calculated on coal shovels or computers, it's the numbers that interest us. I've been fascinated by numbers since I first learned to compute batting average (hits divided by at bats) at age seven.
By Bob Vavra, Editor January 1, 2007

It is said Abraham Lincoln used to figure out math problems by working them out on a shovel covered in coal dust. Gratefully, we have more sophisticated ways of working with numbers today. Whether calculated on coal shovels or computers, it’s the numbers that interest us.

I’ve been fascinated by numbers since I first learned to compute batting average (hits divided by at bats) at age seven. Batting average helps us compare hitters on one statistic %%MDASSML%% how efficient they are at getting a base hit. It doesn’t tell us whether their team is winning or losing, or how they are contributing to their team’s overall success. On its own, batting average is just one measure of effectiveness. You have to dig a little deeper to find out what the numbers really mean.

That’s what we’ve done again this year with our annual Plant Engineering Salary Survey, which you’ll see inside. We’ve done the calculations based on where you work, how long you’ve worked there and how well you’ve been educated over the years. We’ve compared salaries against staff sizes, plant sizes and maintenance budgets.

Those comparisons give us one measure of how today’s plant floor leaders are compensated. I hope it gives you an idea of where your compensation ranks in comparison with these variables.

But for the second year, we’ve also asked our readers how they regard what they do separate from how they are compensated for it. Perhaps more to the point, we asked about their compensation in non-monetary terms. When we asked for your views, you told us that you are satisfied with your work (only 7% consider themselves dissatisfied with their job) and that 45% rank a feeling of accomplishment as their primary source of job satisfaction. That ranks ahead of salary or any other consideration.

They haven’t worked up a mathematical formula to measure satisfaction, but you know it when you feel it. You find it in manufacturing facilities where people are valued for who they are more than what they make. When employees are valued as integral parts of a business team and not as functionaries, they deliver superior work.

This doesn’t negate the serious business and competitive pressures that manufacturing faces today. Our workers are challenged every day to be a little better, a little faster, a little more cost-effective. Those challenges come from staying competitive in a global economy. For some, the value of manufacturing is tied to wages and tariffs %%MDASSML%% economic equations that can be calculated, compared and measured.

With a team in place that works for one another, that values the work that is being done and that strives for excellence every day, the rewards will come. Some of those rewards will be monetary. Some can’t be measured in dollars and cents, on a spreadsheet or a coal shovel.

Pride in work and pride in the product cannot be calculated, but it can be seen in the craftsmanship on every plant floor. Pride in manufacturing and in what we make defies simple mathematics. That sense of satisfaction in what we do is greater than all the economic measurements we can create. It is also what great manufacturers measure first.