One Slow Mega-Change to Get Ahead of Now

Jeff Cole

Road ahead

In prior columns, I’ve mentioned that change can happen in an instant. Sometimes however, changes are so sloth-like in their execution that you don’t see them coming until it’s too late. Such is the brutal case of the Millennial vs. Baby Boomer Skill Gap. This is causing panic throughout many industries relying on manual labor – not just the trades, but manufacturing jobs or anything requiring old-school effort vs. tech.

If you are in an organization where tenure is measured in decades, you likely are already feeling the pain. Workers who have been in the business for 30+ years are eyeing retirement while the new kids coming into the workforce often want nothing to do with the “dirty work”. The good news for those new to the workforce is there are plenty of opportunities to roll around in the mud and the blood and the beer and really learn solid skills that will last a lifetime. The bad news is what will hit our economy in the upcoming years: this skill gap can easily cause businesses to lose valuable knowledge and skills and have to raise wages in order to attract new workers. Productivity and quality will go down as these workers try to drive through a learning curve without senior mentors. Frustration will drive turnover, increasing assimilation costs and potentially leading to a death spiral for some firms.

On that pleasant prognosis, what can be done now to lessen the impact? Here are 8 things from the world of OpEx to consider:

Document your processes

Find the best practices in your organization and standardize around those

Create videos on how to best perform a process and include watch outs – what to do when something goes wrong, what to look for, what a perfect output looks like, safety watch-outs, etc. Address intangible things like what something should feel or sound like if done right.   

Implement poka-yoke (error-proofing) at key quality control points in your processes -  can you make it such that there’s only one way to do a process and that one way is the right way? If not, how can you make it really hard to do things wrong?

Interview your workers to surface and document all of that undocumented “knowledge capital” floating around in your worker’s heads. Determine what questions new workers have and ensure the senior workers cover those topics.   

Are you doing anything manually or sequentially that might be done in parallel or in an automated way that could reduce errors and increase speed?

Institute FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis) thinking on all your processes

Ensure you have Control Plans for each process

Granted, these are the basics that methods like Lean and Six Sigma have been recommending for decades. While you may not be able to fully protect yourself from the impact of this mega-change, these tactics can hopefully lessen the blow. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go see how my 401-K is performing. Happy change.