Should Cross-trained Workers be Paid More?

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 by The Manufacturer

"Now that I can perform more tasks, pay me more." By Gemba Research's Jon Miller.

This was the statement that an HR manager was struggling with recently at a company that is in the midst of introducing cross-training for multi-skilled operators as part of their lean manufacturing program. This challenge is not uncommon. There are two sides to every issue. Which side do you fall on?

From the worker’s point of view, it seems that they are doing more work. In actual fact, sometimes “slack” time is now being filled by working upstream or downstream in the process as operations are moved together to form cells and cycle times are balanced to takt time. It is not difficult to understand that the worker feels busier as they are producing more per unit of time. They are accomplishing more, so they want to be paid more. After all, the company is getting something more, so why shouldn’t the worker?

From the company’s point of view, the worker is paid for time, whether they do the same task for 8 hours or do 80 tasks in 8 hours, whether they are idle some, none or all of that time. In fact, since the worker in the example had been paid to spend some of their time idle, we can say it is only fair that work is rebalanced and they are able to put in a full day’s work. The productivity of the worker improves, and changing the process to improve productivity is just one of the responsibilities of management. We could say that in the past both management and the worker had “idle” or ineffective use of their time.

From the point of view of the customer, this is a silly debate. In most cases the customers pay for results, a service or a product, and not necessarily for the time spent. The market sets the price and a company must deliver high quality on-time at a low cost to persist profitably as an enterprise. Cross-training is simply one way to insure that this happens. The customers may appreciate the increased flexibility of the company and its cross-trained workforce, but they seldom will pay more for this.

So there are benefits to the customer and the company, but what about the worker? We can say that cross-training is in fact an example of people being paid to develop their skills. Job skills, or what you learn how to do at work, is a portable personal asset. It benefits the individual worker to know more skills, be cross-trained and able to perform more tasks because they are more desirable to the current and future employer. In lean companies cross training is a prerequisite to advancement to supervisory and leadership positions, as the team leaders, group leaders and even area managers are responsible for training, filling in for absent workers and being intimately familiar with the processes they manage and possible problems within them.

If we are able to think long-term investment in people through cross-training, the investment will pay off for everyone. Cross-training creates a win-win-win situation and is the obligation of every employer to promote this. The employee, the company and the customer all win. Each invest and gain from their investment at different points in time and to different degrees. Should cross-trained workers be paid more? What do you think?

By Jon Miller of Gemba Research and Gemba Panta Rei blog.

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