Michael Bleau Michael Bleau

Earned Success: A Case for Hard Knocks

May 1, 2011

While visiting last month’s ProMat logistics and transportation-engineering tradeshow in Chicago, I spoke with an executive from a large manufacturing company who shared his frustration in trying to hire qualified, skilled employees—engineers, project managers and skilled tradespeople. Last year, his company’s business boomed and is on track for continued growth in 2011. Yet, it is being held back by a lack of qualified prospects to fill new jobs.

What an astonishing contradiction, at a time when our nation is faced with a jobless rate hovering near nine percent. A CBS News broadcast magnified this contradiction when it recently reported that, while the number of available manufacturing jobs has doubled from last year, many of these jobs 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 his entire career with a single company. Those days seem to have left us, as the division between unions and management has grown from a healthy balance to a lopsided contest blazing toward mutual annihilation. Enter the government to “fix things,” and now we really have the perfect environment to encourage shortsighted, over-managed and underperforming 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.

The begging question:

Why at a time when so many are out of work is it so hard for businesses to fill jobs and fuel growth in manufacturing? Why this high unemployment rate while jobs requiring skilled individuals go unfilled for months on end?

In my opinion, we all collectively bowed to political correctness, and lowered the bar. We did so with such stunning efficiency that the caliber of the average individual fails to 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;” 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, must suffer the consequences 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 and decide for us. By doing so, we’re being driven into the ground.

We need to move quickly to fix this situation, and begin to make some difficult choices. Here are a few suggestions to get the ball rolling:

• Get back to rewarding actual performance, where the scale isn’t recalibrated to accommodate each participant’s uniqueness.

• Unions and management need to quit the gamesmanship and smooth out the kinks. The good-old-boy formula needs to die. Don’t dig in to hold onto outdated positions—figure out how we can work together to dig out. If we can’t get this accomplished, then we will continue to see jobs ship out and businesses restructure, or fail.

• Get government out, period. Until our representatives learn to balance trade and the nation’s checkbook, and to create a stable business climate for manufacturing, I submit that our legislators respectfully remain in Washington. Once they clean up an overgrown government, then and only then will they have earned the right to voice an opinion about how businesses should operate.

• Bring back private-sector internships and apprenticeships. Sure, we all talk about and want to benefit from the value of these programs, but business needs to fund these through adoption and real financial commitment. For such programs to be effective, we need the private sector to step up and make it happen. To this point, next month I’ll discuss opportunities for businesses in this arena.

If we are to reinvigorate our manufacturing heritage, we must adopt more conservative definitions of “performance” and “success.” We must teach future generations to embrace hard knocks as opportunities to learn and grow, to strive for self-improvement and persist in pursuit of perfection. Lowering the bar to make exceptions, under the guise of empathy, only creates false self-actualization and collective weakening of our society. Overcoming obstacles brings out our best qualities, and leads to some of our greatest achievements. MF
Industry-Related Terms: Die, Point, Scale
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Management


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