Recently, Gardner Publications invested in a scanning system for reproducing photographs for the magazines it publishes. I went to see this marvelous piece of machinery. The operator, John Brewer, went to Chicago for a week-long course on how to run the equipment.
Not just anyone could have been sent to Chicago to learn how to operate the equipment. John has experience and knowledge in operating technical photographic equipment. John is a rarity today, according to the seventh annual Grant Thornton Survey of American Manufacturers. With productivity rising over the past several years, manufacturers are learning that it takes the right people to operate today's equipment and run today's systems.
The report compares findings from a survey in 1990 in which 69 pct of manufacturing companies cited productivity as a problem, and 54 pct held their people responsible. Only 29 pct said employee-focused action (training etc.) would be used to improve productivity.
The most recent survey finds that 84 pct of manufacturers have increased productivity. Reasons for productivity gains included training, better people, technology, increased automation and better management.
Not a new problem in industry, however, is the shortage of highly skilled workers. In 1993, the survey showed that 56 pct of midsize manufacturers said finding qualified workers was a problem. That number is 63 pct today. Companies are not only competing for business but for workers. According to the survey, 24 pct of manufacturers say that workers lack effective basic educational skills.
There is a sense among manufacturers that younger workers are less committed to their jobs than older workers. However, older generations usually view younger people as less motivated and productive. Nevertheless, young people are more adaptable to new processes. They are teachable.
Well-designed incentive programs that reward employees are good investments, the survey finds. Incentive programs can range from profit sharing and stock options to increased authority in the plant. Companies with attractive plans should find it easier to draw the best workers.