Skilled workers essential for Lean Plants
I never bought the argument, laid out last month by the president of the Canadian Auto Parts Manufacturers' Association that, “The level of work force in general is so high [in Ontario] that the training program you need for people, even for people who have not worked in a Toyota plant before, is minimal compared to what you have to go through in the Southeastern United States.”
As many people did, I thought this was a misguided and terribly biased statement to make.
The article linked above points out that Toyota chose the second Ontario site because suppliers were already nearby for the existing Toyota plant. It makes sense to leverage existing manufacturing and transportation resources.
They also have a map that illustrates the large number of auto plants there are in the southern U.S, from Tennessee on down. No intelligent, trainable workers down there huh?
There is a related point, regarding the intelligence required to work in a lean factory. When I worked at GM, I worked with many 30+ year UAW workers. Many of them were very intelligent and didn't have the same kind of educational opportunities that I did. But, many of them refused to participate in lean improvement activities or the suggestion program because management had long ago told them to “check their brains at the door.”
I think it's a positive sign that we've moved from viewing factory workers as “just a back, two arms, and two legs” and that we're actually arguing over who has the SMARTEST factory workers. That's particularly true in newer industries, like semiconductors, and it's nice to see it's also happening in automotive.
Lean workers don't just do the same thing all day. They learn multiple jobs, rotate often, and make improvements to their own work. As mentioned in the Wipro article, that can bring much joy to people who would otherwise be doing thankless, mundane work.