Sustainable Sanity

It's Time to Give Sustainable Manufacturing a New Meaning

Jeremy PollardBy Jeremy Pollard, CET

A word that has been thrown around over the past couple of years or so is “sustainability.” A friend of my son—that tells you my age—recently completed a post-graduate course in sustainability at the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden.

Rob and I had lunch recently and talked about his future as he is getting his company and career off the ground. It’s quite a time to be doing that, and he looks forward to it because he can help.

To me, sustainability is a method of study that takes a current operation and throws it a wall. What sticks is sustainable. If it—whatever it is—is not sustainable, it will fail. Sometimes that’s OK. GM has shown us what the consequences can be.

Rob says we cannot be a service-based economy—not enough stratification in job responsibilities and remuneration. A robust economy needs a diversified job platform that can be a thriving, sustainable environment for all.

Smells like manufacturing should be brought back home.

But how can we? The labor costs are way out of whack, and no one is trying to make it better for everyone involved.

Labor is only one component of manufacturing, and it is a biggie. Employment contracts are needed in some cases. I always have believed that a binding contract is needed, but the adversarial posture of most partnerships has had a devastating effect on our work environment.

Some idiot decided to ask for the moon, and another idiot gave it to him. In the good old days, it worked because there was too much at stake to not keep the ball rolling.

Well those days are gone, and now the unions say “It’s mine, and I won’t give it back.” It reminds me of a third-grade recess.

I don’t understand how people can think that when times are good we get more, and when times are bad, then tough, I’m still going to keep it. Give and take doesn’t exist in the union mindset.

The workplace contracts are what drove manufacturing outside of our borders. Lower manufacturing costs were needed. Legacy costs were seen as a big future issue, and we know that now.

We need to bring that sector back home, but how can we with a union mentality that doesn’t support it? Not sustainable then, and not now.

This time it’s the unions’ fault for not seeing the obvious.

They have a very unique opportunity in front of them. Their strength is in their membership. I could go on about their leadership, but it would serve no purpose here. It’s time for the membership to take some decisions back. They are fighting for their employment lives, and for the countries’ health. I believe most of them do care.

The success of North America has been in the palms of innovation, democracy, compromise and down-and-dirty smarts.

We now have a complacent, who-cares, socialistic and combative environment where it’s us against them and no one wins.

If someone said that you get to earn a decent wage for the work you do, and it will last for 10 years, would you take it? Damn straight.

The one point that has been missed in this mess is how working class wages are spent and support government from their own sandbox and not an offshore sandbox.

Unions need to accept the inevitable. The future risk to them is extinction. To be competitive in a global market, the strength is the people. They can be a big part of the solution if they want to be.

Unions need to negotiate fairly without the threat of extortion, and companies need to listen.

Employee training should be on every contract negotiation going. Maybe it should be legislated, but it needs to happen.

An educated—on-the-job trained, if you will—and committed workforce trumps all. And if global issues take that job away, fair and square, the working people have a fighting chance to find meaningful work elsewhere and continue to be innovative and productive to keep the economic wheels turning.

Smart people can make smart decisions that can be sustainable for the business and sustainable for the economy.

I believe that our manufacturing family has the vision and agility to succeed without selling out our kids’ future. Sustainable decision making is imperative, and in my opinion it starts with training on a constant basis.

Anyone agree? It’s not all about the money any more.

Jeremy Pollard has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Publisher of The Software User Online, he has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 25 years.