The manufacturing community responds…

Posted on 26 Feb 2009 by The Manufacturer

Responses from last week's newsletter on Mini and getting kids into manufacturing...

Thanks to all who sent responses to last week’s newsletter. The following comments relate to the job cull situation at Mini and the difficulties in enticing youngsters into UK industry. Click here for a review of the current learning activities at confectionary manufacturer Swizzels-Matlow.

Reg Dixon, consultant at Niftylift, global manufacturer of hydraulic work platforms:

BMW pay a high premium to buy their temporary labour from agencies (which agencies do very nicely thank you out of the deal). If the agencies fail to properly explain the temporary nature of the contract to the people they supply to BMW, this is hardly BMW’s fault.

Given it would be difficult to defend the moral aspect of BMW’s recent actions, the company will normally have no formal contract with their agency labour. This labour is likely employed by and paid by the relevant external agency.

Some pompous idiots in parliament and elsewhere jumping on the band wagon for short term PR gains, as so often, appear to misunderstand the nature of the real world.

Steve Milner, self-employed lean consultant:

Fair points Mark – and your ‘rant’ is not unreasonable. Our local Chamber of Commerce met yesterday, and members described the ordeal of trying to get access to various grant in similar terms to those used by the IUSS “taking the national, regional and sectoral complexities together it seems to us that much of this system is impenetrable to everyone apart from possibly a few civil servants and a handful of academics.” In fact it’s not worth the bother for many – more time, energy – and money – is lost wrestling with red tape than the potential benefit. The only real winners are the civil servants – and here in the North East, the state sector’s share of GDP (product? – what product?!) is reckoned to be somewhere around 70%.

Wealth is not created, but funds are ‘drawn down’. Taxes are collected, sent to Brussels, shuffled, returned to the region and advertised as available to help those who try to add value to something that someone might actually choose to pay for. I would love to know how much of this money gets lost along the way – it’s certainly not what we would call ‘lean’.

Should we get kids into manufacturing? Not necessarily, but they need to be given an understanding of some of the fundamentals of life – because these seem to be getting increasingly distant. We have basic needs for food, clothing, housing – above that they’re ‘wants’. For many years we’ve sought to distance ourselves from getting our hands dirty with the basics, and instead devised attractive things that make life easier or more fun. Without getting immersed in debates about guns and butter, or the efficiency of pin-making factories (see £20 note), the ‘wants’ are discretionary. If there isn’t the demand then there’s clearly no point making Minis …or Micras, or whatever. Have we reached saturation point for a lot of the ‘stuff’ of everyday life? Certainly my 40 mpg 10 year old Nissan Primera isn’t going to be replaced without a very good reason. We’re also increasingly conscious of the finite nature of the material resources available to us – and of the energy needed to transform them – so success will go only to those with a very strong value proposition.

So yes, get the kids into manufacturing – but on the understanding that you’re only creating wealth if someone is prepared to pay for the fruits of your labours. No one is obliged to buy your product …and no-one is obliged to give you a job. When NMUK (Nissan) was established 25 years ago we didn’t expect to hit the ground running with a fully-skilled workforce, but looked instead for people with the right attitude. Now, a lot of effort has gone into creating the skills base, to the extent that supply currently exceeds demand. I only hope that the ‘can do’ attitudes remain, however, enabling people to stimulate and respond to new demands, and that this will rub off on youngsters. Just steer them away from banking!

Bruce H. Anderson, a senior industrial engineer at $28 billion US Supply chain services firm McLane:

Giving an hour’s notice may seem a bit harsh, but one given is that there could be considerable potential for damage/vandalism by those who have been given the boot should they be given several hours to stew about their predicament, this may have been the most prudent course. I do not know that such actions will cause young workers to reconsider a career in manufacturing (this may be the only option for some), since these personnel practices are equally applied without regard to colour of collar. Here on this side of the pond we have had for some time a feature called employment-at-will, where either part can, at any time, for any reason (or for no reason), terminate the employment agreement. It is a new day, and not a pretty one.

Ian Brearly, assistant production manager, Innovaciones Subbetica – Spanish manufacturer of paper bags:

Although I sympatise with the employees at the Mini plant, do we know the full story?

Until quite recently I used to work within the automotive industry, and initially I was employed as a ‘temp’ working on the production lines alongside full contract employees. We were paid the same salary, which we all know within the industry are excellent rates of pay. The downside was, that we had to accept that we could be finished at any time with very little notice from our employers, depending on the demand for product. BUT this was the only way we could look towards getting our feet in the door and finding ‘full time’ employment within this particular company, we HAD to start as temps, and take the RISK of being finished at any time.

I was fortunate to work at the same plant for almost a year, but eventually all the ‘temps’ (which at one point there were over 150 employed there) were laid off, only to be offered re-employment doing exactly the same jobs via a Managed Service Provider, ie this gave us contracts that also provided us with basic redundancy protection, BUT were paid HALF what we were originally earning as ‘temps’.

I agree it is going to be difficult to encourage anyone, let alone young people into UK manufacturing, BUT this has always been the case, not just in this recession era, but for many years now. Since leaving school, (I am in my mid 40’s now) I have ALWAYS worked in manufacturing, starting from the ‘shopfloor’ and eventually progressed into middle management. I currently work in Spain for a Spanish manufacturing company, and here we are experiencing an equally difficult time. Unemployment is at an all time high, the euro v GBP isn’t helping exports, BUT we will weather this storm, and hopefully, we along with the UK manufacturing industry will see some light at the end of the tunnel quite soon.

Julian Wilson, director, Matt Black Systems – Dorset-based design and manufacture of man-machine interfaces:

Mark, I’m tempted to disagree with your rant about the layoffs occurring recently (and how they have been done), however on reflection I see them as symptoms of a deeper problem. This redundancy behaviour is BAD because these organisations have something wrong with them.

There is a terrible lack of talent in the company Directors of this country (gross generalisation I know). Directors are supposed to look to the future and define strategy, however they only seem to be reactive.

All “knee jerk” and no considered intuition or the instigation of pro-active change.

Moving to the subject of apprentices, its interesting to note that this also reveals part of that same problem. The reason companies should take on apprentices is that they have an eye on their future and see apprentices as their best option. But in reality, it would seem that the gov. are the ones who have to encourage it, because without the money NOW, companies are just not interested.

This echoes a greater problem in our wider culture, we have a tendency to value stability, keep doing what we did yesterday- cause it worked, and cut costs a bit more; we only change plan when we are forced to do so. Hence the knee jerk reactions.

This is also true of the “skills” shortage; kids are taught to know what they need to know to get thru their exams- taught to follow the process.

We all need change agents to keep up with a changing world and to push our businesses forward; yet we are offered educated “followers”.

The Lean toolkit calls this need for change “Continuous Improvement”, as an EX employee said to me once, “the problem with CI is that no one knows what is required of us, and we can’t see when it will be over”. She was expressing the anxiety that change was fostering in her, yet change was something that the company had no choice but to embrace. We have a culture that thinks this is BAD.

Sadly, this perspective is prominent in both blue and white collar workers.

The only group who are not encouraged to have this is perspective is entrepreneurs. But who other than us are really nurturing them? Most entrepreneurial training takes the form of teaching it as a process… Ahhhhhhhh!!!!

So, as a director I agree with this apprentice program, I just don’t understand why the gov. needs to be the backer. Personally, we are still hiring because it’s still in our best interest. In this time of change there are increasing opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Given that the gov. is handing out tax payers money, and given the fact that I feel we could use it to better purpose than others, I would like to access the gov. funding for apprentices, but it is difficult to get in on the money. The “train to gain” stuff is aimed at the long term unemployed, and some of the other grants are aimed at the institutions that provide the training (colleges), and not for “in house” training. Any help would be appreciated here Mark.

We are running a KTP at the moment, it is very frustrating. It is another example of the cultural problem above. The Uni we are partnered with are complete frauds. They sold us their competency, yet once the program was running the “knowledge” to be “transferred” seemed to have to come from the associate- not the Uni. When pressed they say that what we are doing is not conventional, therefore there is no body of academic knowledge to transfer, and anyway, they only have enough time allocated to the project to support the associate in their pastoral needs. Effectively, they are adamant that the associate is transferring the knowledge gained from their previous education (Uni) and we were the one who chose the associate therefore it was our problem.

And at the end of all the weasel words… they tried to make us sign an IPR agreement so that they could benefit from the results of the program.

The conclusion I take from these schemes is that the customer is not -the pupil, student, associate, unemployed person, or the company involved, it is the State. It is the State that these institutions aim at satisfying. The system is broken.

So, in conclusion… can I have some money to train entrepreneurs please? And where can I get it from? Any ideas?

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