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PLANT

From PLANT’s print edition: Guess who needs a makeover?

How to make manufacturing sexier


March 14, 2013
by Matt Powell, Assistant Editor

“Sexy” is not a word used to describe Canadian manufacturing. In terms of hotness, it’s way down the list for young people who are not into what they perceive to be “factory work,” preferring instead to pursue more “cerebral” or professional pursuits through a post secondary degree or diploma.

Manufacturing is gathering some momentum after the 2008-09 recession, but many companies remain slow to innovate and suffer from lacklustre productivity. Meanwhile, a looming skills shortage also threatens to impede their ability to improve.

Karin Lindner believes manufacturing needs a makeover and she is doing something about it. She heads Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Karico Performance Solutions, a consultancy that’s dedicated to uncovering human potential in manufacturing, and she has also authored a book that shows manufacturers how to unlock sophistication within Canadian plants.

Written in April 2012, How we can make manufacturing sexy: A mindset of passion and purpose from the production floor to the executive suite, is available in nine countries, including Canada, the US, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Because it’s self-published, Lindner controlled where it was printed, so it’s also “Made in Canada.”

The book takes aim at nonbelievers who are skeptical about the future of manufacturing, and stokes parental excitement about getting their children interested in it as a career choice; but Lindner also addresses plant culture and how to inspire confidence that creates ideas on the shop floor.

“To me, ‘sexy’ is demonstrating confidence, being attractive and attracting attention,” says Lindner. “None of this is the case with Canadian industry.”

Originally from Austria, she began her manufacturing career at automotive components giant Magna International in Aurora, Ont.

A one-year permit became a three-year stay, during which Lindner awakened a passion for working with employees at plant-level. This led to a discovery there was a major communications gap between the shop floor and upper management, and it was severely hampering morale as well as productivity.

“The company was missing a major opportunity. Brain power on the shop floor was being underused because management and supervisors didn’t know how to tap into that knowledge and bring out the full potential of their employees,” she says.

By the end of 2006, she was a casualty of restructuring, yet continued to work in manufacturing and share lessons learned. Friends urged her to get out of the business. Better to focus her expertise on employee engagement in the services sector, they suggested.

But Lindner stayed the course. “We can’t make the economy go around by making coffee and cutting each other’s hair.”

She turned to social media, and asked a simple discussion question on a LinkedIn forum: how can we make manufacturing sexy?

Within two weeks, she’d received 450 responses and had a title for her book.

“I learned a lot from those LinkedIn discussions. I chatted with a lot of small manufacturers and asked them what it would take to get manufacturing back,” she says.

Surprisingly, more than 80% of the people she talked to didn’t want their own children to go into manufacturing.

“Manufacturing isn’t interesting to young people because we rarely talk positively about it,” says Lindner. “When I wrote my book, I wanted to outline some issues within the industry, but I also wanted to inspire people to think in a new way about manufacturing and make them truly consider careers for their kids.”

As for the makeover, Lindner thinks the sector has got a lot of work to do.

Create creativity

Canada will continue its struggle to compete at a cost level, but manufacturing can improve its fortunes by creating a culture that’s dedicated to creativity.

“I go to plants, and sometimes it feels like the shop floor is staffed by zombies.”

Leveraging talent on the shop floor alleviates competitive pressures once an environment is created where people will want to go to work.

Some suggestions for achieving a sexier sector include:

• Provide workers with a proactive environment that inspires creativity.

• Utilize technology.

• Provide necessary tools for training and education.

• Encourage departments to work together instead of against each other.

• Encourage greater work-life balance.

• Place an emphasis on employee wellness.

• Make windows and natural light in the plant mandatory.

Companies must create a culture where respect between employees at all levels comes first, she says.

Few of the companies she visits that claim to practice lean can name the second pillar of TPS: respect for people, she says. “Most supervisors and managers shut people down with ideas because it’s a pain to think about implementing them.”

It’s less painful to teach employees the process of implementing an idea.

Lindner notes that the average American worker generates 1.1 ideas a year. The Japanese workforce comes up with 167 annually.

“What’s the difference? It’s not the intelligence of the people in Japan, it’s because managers intend to implement as many ideas as possible (or at least part of an idea).”

Something else has to change. Employees are still considered a liability on the balance sheet.

“We are in the age of the knowledge worker,” she warns. “People have more options.”

Lindner’s book, How we can make manufacturing sexy…is available at www.karicosolution.com.

This article appears in the March 2013 edition of PLANT.