Category Archives: Jobs

How To Get Them While They Are Young?

A blog that almost nobody reads may be the smallest way possible to throw my hat over the fence, but I hope it has the needed effect for me.

A few weeks ago, right around National Engineering Week, I had a brief back-and-forth about the idea of giving some sort of lecture/presentation/demonstration to the 8th grade kids my sister teaches (math) in order to try to convince some of them to at least think about engineering, and more specifically, manufacturing as a viable career. Especially now that I am getting to the point where I think my job is more about teaching/mentoring/training than it is about doing.

Since I’ll see my sister for Easter, I want to talk to her about what her year’s curriculum is, to see if there is something I can tie into. And really, making stuff is cool – manufacturing shouldn’t be THAT hard of a sell (especially to kids who haven’t had their eyes open to the terror that is trying to find steady employment).

So my question out to the vast wasteland is – how DO you get kids excited about manufacturing and engineering? Anyone?

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How Long Can You Stay “Lean And Mean”?

From today’s NYT:

But whether growth in manufacturing indeed spells new jobs throughout the economy remains a question. Mr. Shapiro, the MFR economist, argues that companies have become permanently lean, mastering the art of producing more with fewer people — a trend with staying power.

When I started reading the paper this morning, I thought I was going to write about everyone’s seeming case of collective amnesia, where everyone forgets that manufacturing and industry almost always picks up every January as they have to make up for the depleted inventory they ran down for tax purposes in Q4, when the paragraph above jolted me to a stop. Because the short sighted thinking articulated in it makes the Baby Jesus cry.

I currently work at a small production facility. And I love a lot about that fact – instead of being stuck in a corporate engineering role for GloboChem, working for a smaller organization means that I get to/have to get involved in every aspect of the business. I need to know who the sales people are talking to, and be ready to provide them with technical support. I have to understand the operating procedures, the inventory system, and the accounting system for when things go wrong, and that knowledge gives me a better insight into what projects would really have a positive impact on the company as a whole, rather than focusing only on my narrow assigned focus, and end up robbing Peter to pay Paul.

But in the current economic reality, a lot of companies cut past fat and into bone. At this point, if somebody leaves the company, or is even out for an extended absence, either their duties get ignored completely until a replacement is hired, or those duties get parceled out to those who are left, which pushes something off their radar. (Yes, there are still some people at every location who could take on extra duties, usually a LOT of extra duties, but we all know that he won’t, and that for whatever reason/incriminating pictures he has, the company won’t get rid of him either, so let’s do what we do at the office, and pretend he doesn’t exist)

This can work for a while, in fact this can work for a very long while – as long as the company is willing to just tread water and remain where they are today. But the first tasks that go are those that will build your company’s future – the developments, the new products, the step-changes in productivity and applicability to your customers. If your crew is running on all cylinders just to get the product out the door, you might be able to brag to your shareholders about your productivity, but there’s a new guy in your rear-view mirror about to overtake you. And he’s leaner, and isn’t carrying the weight that comes with existing customer demands.

Sleep tight.

Your Succession Plan – How To Ensure They Don’t Complain About You When You’re Gone (And Fix What You Do While You Stay)

With the current trend away from job security and loyalty between companies and their employees, you can pretty much be guaranteed that you won’t be doing your current job forever (I’ve also heard rumors of things called “promotions” that would remove you from your current position, but I’ve learned not to believe everything I hear). And while you may feel that once you leave your current employer you don’t care what happens in your absence, once you think about it, you realize that whatever gap you leave is going to have to be filled by the coworkers you left behind. The ones that were in the trenches with you, some of whom you like and respect. You don’t want to screw them over (even if you do want to see The Company crash and burn). And you definitely don’t want everyone complaining about the lurch you’ve left them in when some prospective new employer calls to check on your references.

So figure out what you do all day at work, and write it down. Develop documentation so that all the tasks you do to keep your ship running are known, and so that someone will be able to do them in your absence. Make sure that spreadsheet you kludged together to gather all the data your boss needs to give his monthly presentation to his boss has enough comments so that your replacement can use it – and then make sure that the spreadsheet doesn’t die somewhere that nobody else in the department has access to. Have everything prepared so that as soon as you give your two week’s notice, or are handed a pink slip, or cut the cake at your “Good Luck At HQ” party, you can send out an email to your manager and department making sure  that your knowledge and tools get passed along.

And even if you aren’t moving away, writing down what you do, how you do it, and why you do each thing will give you that needed perspective on your typical day. How many tasks do you do because they are simple and routine, but no longer add any value to your job? Is there a quicker way to accomplish the same goal? Or is it time to move some of these tasks off to someone else who needs the development?