Skill Development Critical to Success

Why do many of our best companies move to China or other countries? Some do it for the lower labor rates, but just as many move because they can’t find skilled labor, engineers and other resources here in the U.S. This is a tragic reason. In today’s politics there is an argument that the middle class is disappearing. This is not the fault of companies. It is the fault of all of us. We can’t compete with low-wage countries on no-skill jobs, only skilled jobs. And on this front, we have drastically underinvested, as schools, individuals, companies and depending on your view, government as well.

Scotland faces many struggles as well (full disclosure, I’m part Scot). While by no means a cure-all, they are taking action. You might, and I might, disagree with some of the politics in how they are handling it, but the underlying point is vital.

Scotland to expand number of apprenticeships.

The BBC (3/18) reports that Scotland “is launching a bid to expand training opportunities for young people by delivering almost 30,000 modern apprenticeship places.” According to the BBC, “The bill proposes to establish a right to undertake an apprenticeship for those aged between 16 and 18. … The bill’s consultation is being launched at the Carnegie College’s school of engineering and technology in Fife.” There the “the next generation of skilled workers” will be trained to “assemble the new Royal Navy aircraft carriers.” John Park, a “skills spokesman,” said that “[a]pprentice numbers in Scotland have increased significantly over the last 10 years.” He added, “An apprenticeship gives you not just technical skills but core skills that will give you an edge in what will become in the future an increasingly competitive labor market.”

If lean is to be about respect for people, it doesn’t mean to keep people employed that don’t have skills that you need. It means to develop people’s skills and talents, and expect that they invest to the same end. Every manager, supervisor or executive should have a development plan for what they are doing to develop the skills and talents of those they are responsible for. This doesn’t mean just filling out the corporate HR forms. This means engaging that individual and helping them through the process. And every individual should have their own self-improvement learning plan. I have mine. Do you have yours? Better yet, share some of your ideas here.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

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  1. Ron Pereira says

    For whatever it is worth… I learned last week that Japan is facing a similar problem with lack of skilled workers.

    One manager we met with explained that they may be forced to bring in “contract” workers from China in the coming years.

  2. Ralf Lippold says

    Hi Jamie,

    thanks for the great posting:-)

    Of course it is possible that the people with specific skills are not at hand. But as so often managers grab the “easy” solution that looks fine for now (moving elsewhere, shutting down a facility, or else:-(().

    BUT, this symptom solution will surely fire back much more severe to the organization. There question on how this could happen makes top management scratch their head.

    It would be wise to see the effects of certain actions (that seem quick and easy) in a larger time frame (systems thinking:-)).

    I highly recommend Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline” which goes deeper in growing people (oneself at first!) in order to improve.



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