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Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Quality Insider

Where Politics Meets Quality

We can’t ignore the impact that policymaker misinformation has on industry

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2017 - 13:03

You’re going to see a bit of a departure in some Quality Digest coverage this year. Certainly on our webcast, Quality Digest Live, but even in our online editorial coverage. It is spurred in no small part by the incoming administration’s approach to dealing with U.S. manufacturing and the conversations that have followed. President-elect Trump has made it clear that he wants to keep or reshore U.S. jobs and reduce regulation, all with an eye toward rebuilding U.S. manufacturing and increasing U.S. jobs.

This a good thing. Here at QD we applaud any efforts at strengthening our workforce. And of course, it’s nothing new. It’s not as if past presidents were deliberately anti-manufacturing or anti-job growth (although some might argue legislation didn’t lead in that direction). The difference is in the methodology. More than any other president since President John F. Kennedy lambasted U.S. Steel in 1962, soon-to-be President Trump is calling out specific manufacturers: Toyota, Ford, Boeing, Carrier, Apple, etc. He is naming and shaming in order to drag them kicking and screaming into reshoring, or at least not offshoring.

Because of this, we believe the role of manufacturing and the actions of manufacturers will be in the spotlight in an unprecedented way during the next four years. The question is, will Trump’s approach work? Will it cause harm or good? Has the approach of previous administrations been too laissez faire? Has our industry and economy been waiting for the bare-knuckles approach that Trump served up during his campaign, and we assume will continue once he is sworn in?

In order to have these discussions, our readers must have the facts in front of them. People who don’t work within industry usually make overly broad assumptions or are outright mistaken, including our incoming president (e.g., the loss of manufacturing jobs is not all due to outsourcing, in fact automation and increased productivity play a larger role). The editors of Quality Digest feel it is our responsibility to call attention to misrepresentations or incorrect facts about the manufacturing industry no matter who they come from.

For instance, we have steadfastly maintained that there is indeed a skills gap, even when others have claimed no such gap exists. This gap is why so many companies have started their own recruiting/training departments, are partnering with high schools and community colleges in voc/tech programs, and doing everything they can to cultivate a workforce ready to take on the types of jobs they have available.

These topics and others are absolutely germane to what our readers do. For instance, the main reason companies outsource jobs is because it’s cheaper. It improves the bottom line. If a company is forced to manufacture in the United States even if it’s more expensive, it won’t be as if shareholders will no longer care about profit margins. Of course they will, and they won’t be happy seeing profits decrease.

Thus, how will companies maintain or increase margins all while maintaining quality and competitiveness? Some may cut staff or decrease wages and benefits. Some may increase prices. Either of which defeats the purpose of reshoring. And a lot will automate, even the ones who have already promised to stay here.

To determine if reshoring makes sense, you need the facts, both pro and con, in front of you. If you decide, based on these facts, that reshoring does make sense, then how do you run more efficiently to protect those margins?

That’s where QD comes in. Hopefully, companies will consider taking concepts like lean, the Toyota Production System, and all the other continuous-improvement methods discussed in QD more seriously, and we’re here to help.

What about management practices? Our leaders, whether company, industry, or government, should set the example for how we should lead. What is the best way to manage employees in order to cost-effectively maintain continuous improvement. How do you keep employees excited about producing the best products and services they can? Will CEOs look to Trump as an exemplar of a good or strong leader, or will they embrace the ideas of W. Edwards Deming or Joseph M. Juran? On an employee level, neither Deming nor Juran would have been fans of shaming. Deming, on the other hand, wasn’t above shaming management, so....

We understand that not all of our readers will feel comfortable with this new coverage. Some have already let us know how they feel. But politics and lawmakers have an effect on U.S. business. It would be remiss for us to not understand the implications and impacts of what coming legislation or presidential actions will bring and to put those considerations before our audience.

Some of you will pointedly point out that we have never looked at the political angle and its impact on our industry, so why now? Because never in our 35-year history have we encountered a political climate that operated, openly at least, in the fashion that we are seeing evolve today, e.g., open attacks on companies and, by proxy, their industry, based on sketchy or just plain wrong information. In an era of uninformed news about our industry, it is our job to keep the facts in front our audience. You can do with them as you please.

We will, of course, attempt to do all this in the most transparent, respectful, and even-handed way we can. Feel free to agree or disagree. That’s what the comments section below each article is for. We look forward to providing you a balanced look at how this year’s policies and policymakers will impact tomorrow’s jobs.


About The Author

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest’s picture

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest’s editor in chief.


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Wait, what?

Someone should tell Mr. Levinson that it's IN college that you learn science, technology, engineering, and math. This anti-intellectual mythology ("college kids are stupid!") has no basis in reality.

STEM preparation must begin early

 Many manufacturing jobs do not require college degrees, but they may require 2-year degrees and most of them require STEM preparation which begins in junior high school (e.g. algebra). Furthermore,  college is too late to start to learn STEM subjects--students had better be prepared for them out of high school. I am not even sure that somebody could get into a STEM program without good grades in the corresponding high school subjects. The Motorized Vehicle Manufacturing article that said manufacturing workers (may include engineers) earn $77K a year on average said very clearly that STEM education has to begin in middle school.

In any event, thank you for reminding me of the article I wanted to do for APICS on how to structure junior high and high school courses to allow year-round study without creating sudden surges in vacations (e.g. a few weeks when students are out of school, which means they and their parents all go on vacation at once with consequent surges in demand for hotels, travel, and so on). It's simply a variant on how Henry Ford had tens of thousands of people work at his factory without any perceptable rush hour. It should be possible to complete the equivalent of a community college degree by age 18 so young adults can finish college by age 20, or else go straight to work at the skilled high-wage jobs that are now opening up all over but don't have enough people with the necessary skills to fill them.

A 2-year degree IS a college

A 2-year degree IS a college degree. In fact, you even just said it was.

Your original post denigrated college degrees by saying "teenagers, starting in junior high school ... can earn more than most college graduates" simply by "working hard." Now you're arguing an entirely different case, by saying yes, students should graduate, they should just start earlier. Entirely different thing.

[Remainder deleted by moderator]

College degrees

Re: "Your original post denigrated college degrees by saying "teenagers, starting in junior high school ... can earn more than most college graduates" simply by "working hard."That statement is accurate because skilled manufacturing workers such as machinists and tool and die makers earn a lot more than most college graduates, except of course those with STEM degrees. Graduates of the Henry Ford Trade School, which combined hands-on work with classroom instruction, earned a lot more than most college graduates in an era where most people (including Ford) did not finish high school. My high school was one of the two best in Lancaster County, and the coursework gave me the equivalent of a free year in college, but I wish I had gone to a modern version of Ford's school. It would have made me a much better engineer and a much better STEM college student.

The unpleasant truth is that many college graduates simply do not have skills that employers want or need. The only jobs for some are, in fact, in academia. If 30 people graduate in a field where they need 1 professor for every 15 students, 28 of them are going to be out of luck, and also possibly with college loans they have to pay off. On the other hand, there is a growing demand for STEM college graduates and also high school graduates with STEM skills because our manufacturing sector is finally starting to recover from the damage caused by the suits (we called them that back in the 1980s--people with MBA degrees and fancy suits whose eye was always on the dollar and never on the job) who sent jobs offshore for cheap labor. Henry Ford had no use for them whatsoever, and he was right.

People are finally waking up to the fact that yes, they can get cheap labor in China, but they also get a month added to the cycle time (time necessary for a container ship to cross the Pacific), hiding places for defects--a container ship is a thinly disguised floating warehouse full of inventory--poor quality, and lack of control over the supply chain. Something that history's best manufacturers (Henry Ford) and best generals (the Duke of Wellington, Alexander the Great, and Memnon of Rhodes--the one man who could have stopped Alexander the Great) had in common was that they understood the importance of logisitcs and supply chain management.

One thing I like about Donald Trump, by the way, is that he recognizes the enormous danger of loss of the manufacturing sector, which is in turn the backbone of national affluence and military power. The question is as to whether he knows how to achieve his stated goal of restoring American manufacturing, as he does not have a manufacturing background. If we can get him to read Henry Ford's My Life and Work, he will have the means to do it because Ford already told us what we needed to do, and proved that it worked.

Calling it like it is

Dirk, well said. I agree that there are downsides to bringing some offshoring back into the U. S. You wisely name the issue of increased prices because of higher wages. As a shareholder, I certainly enjoy the dividends from companies whose profit margins are larger than others. 

Mr. Trump has responded to the cries for returning jobs to the US. During the campaign season, it would not have been an effective message to remind the voters that bringing company jobs back to the US may well raise the price of products and services. 

Those who want to get their jobs back may also be the same who go to Walmart because the prices are lower. Many of the products carried by Walmart are manufactured overseas due to the intense pressure on the vendor to reduce costs. 

I am optimistic that this new administration has the economic vision to balance reshoring with education to provide our unemployed workforce with advanced skills to become competitive in new markets. 

Skills gap is important

I read in Manufacturing Engineering that, while manufacturing jobs can pay in the mid-$70K range, there are not enough skilled workers to fill them. Somebody ought to be telling teenagers, starting in junior high school, that they can earn more than most college graduates by working hard at science, technology, engineering, and math.

Insights Appreciated - - Politics, Public Service, & More

As one of those "Old Guys" that has been around the tree a couple of times - - yes, that political tree - - insights shared from respected observers & commentators is appreciated. And, yes, you are among those respected observers.

Looking forward to news, proposals, assessments, & opinions.

   Old Guy in Rural Central Washington

Thank you

Thank for taking the decision to not ignore the current political environment but rather to embrace it and add it to the conversation because of the effects that government policies have on all apsects of our lives, including quality. To ignore it is to silo off the effects of political decisions from the rest of the ecosystem which does a disservice to an open discussion of how business moves forward. Businesses do not operate in a vacuum. Looking beyond just the United States' policies, I hope equal attention is given to the current political climate in Europe (Brexit) as well as the ascendance of the BRIC nations and others.