A resource for safe and effective troubleshooting from the leaders in simulation training.

Greetings once again, Troubleshooters! Thanks for tuning in to this week’s TST. 

Today is the final post in our current series on lean manufacturing. In case you’re just tuning in now, check out Part 1, an overview of lean manufacturing, Part 2, a look at the “eight types of manufacturing waste” that are common to most manufacturing enterprises and therefore juicy targets for improvement, and Part 3, a look at trimming waiting waste in particular.

In our final post for this series today, we’ll be talking about ways to reduce another kind of waste: the waste of unused talent.

Unused Talent is a Form of Waste

As we noted in Part 1, the overview of lean manufacturing, the lean philosophy has evolved over the years. It can be traced back to Henry Ford’s total revamping of mass production, through the Toyota Production System and its concepts of kaizen and jidoka, to Womack and colleagues’ in-depth study of the future of auto production in the 1980s, which gave “lean manufacturing” its name. 

Lean manufacturing is a mindset that focuses on eliminating waste from the manufacturing process. 

Taiichi Ohno of Toyota originally identified seven wastes of the Toyota Production System (defects, transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing). Later on, the eighth waste, unused talent, or underused human potential, was added to the list.

Unused talent is different from the other types of manufacturing waste. The other seven kinds of waste are all what you might call mechanical—pertaining to the machines and processes of production. Unused talent, on the other hand, relates to human workers. 

It’s a form of waste because in not utilizing its human resources optimally, a company loses out on their creativity, ideas, innovations, and skills that might add value to the product or enhance efficiency or quality. Not only that, if they don’t listen to employees’ ideas and don’t care to help to develop them professionally, manufacturers risk lowering overall morale, killing job satisfaction and engagement, and increasing staff turnover.

Combatting the Waste of Untapped Human Talent

The Japanese word kaizen means continuing improvement. According to Masaaki Imai, founder of the Kaizen Institute and author of KAIZEN™: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success, it also encompasses the idea of continuous improvements in home, social, and work life. In the lean manufacturing context, it means “continuing improvement involving everyone—managers and workers alike.”

Kaizen means striving for improvement every single day, by everybody in the organization, everywhere in the organization. It is not limited to the shop floor, but applies to the offices as well. It should start from the top down, with top managers setting the example for everyone else, constantly searching for ways to improve. 

Certainly, then, one aspect of kaizen is the professional development and improvement of staff themselves. (It’s important to note that this kind of development has to be advantageous to the company at the same time, so that it is a mutually beneficial arrangement. It can’t just be expanding employees’ horizons via art appreciation or macramé classes.)

This kind of development could, for example, take the form of additional hard or soft skills training that enables employees to take on greater responsibility. People who feel like they are achieving goals along a career path experience an improved sense of worth and value, and therefore job satisfaction. They are acquiring knowledge and skills that make them more needed, appreciated, and respected, which in turn increases engagement and productivity and lowers wasteful turnover. 

In the midst of the current skilled labor shortage, upskilling workers has very real benefits for manufacturers. At a time when skilled workers are retiring from the labor force in droves and taking their years of experience with them, it is often just not possible to hire new staff with the necessary skills. So, if manufacturers can offer the training themselves, it’s a win-win scenario: they create the workforce they need, and the new hires get all the personal and professional benefits of expanding their skill set.

Upskilling Maintenance Professionals

Manufacturers continually face the spectre of production-line downtime due to equipment failure. Unplanned downtime costs the company big money and puts a serious dent in executive production quotas. Since most modern production equipment contains highly sophisticated electrical components, which are often the source of the failure, it takes maintenance staff who are skilled in electrical troubleshooting to get the line back up and running quickly.

In fact, most unskilled maintenance professionals are quite capable of this kind of troubleshooting, provided they have the proper training. Without training, they’re a prime example of the waste of unused talent. Simply by tapping into this potential and training existing unskilled maintenance workers, a manufacturer can dramatically reduce downtime, increase production, and boost the bottom line.

And that’s it for today, Troubleshooters! See you next week.

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