By Jeff Reinke, Editorial Director, Manufacturing Group
This column is one of the coolest things about my job. I enjoy it because:
- I get to put a lot of what’s rattling around in my head on paper, which for anyone who enjoys writing is a definite perk.
- There’s a great sense of accomplishment that not only comes in creating a unique (and hopefully useful or at least semi-entertaining) written piece, but the immediate feedback that I receive, both good and bad. It’s that interaction with you and this sense of community that helps guide our actions about the quality of the product we’re providing.
One of my biggest challenges is usually deciding what to write about, and then organizing my thoughts in a clear, coherent manner — with caffeine usually playing a key role in that effort. Today, I’ve decided to venture down a new path and instead of prioritizing one topic, offer some thoughts on a couple of different ones that I hope you’ll have some time to comment on, rant about or debate with me:
- My oldest daughter started first grade today. I’m not sure which scared me more: the fact that she’s now in “real” school or that she was sporting a Hannah Montana T-shirt and singing to one of her songs on the way. This somewhat dramatic event, along with a recent post discussing mentorship got me thinking about individual workplace interactions and the resulting struggles or benefits. You see, my daughter was a little anxious because first grade is going to be harder than kindergarten, and there’s less play time. It’s tough to not appreciate her point. However, I decided to play off the great big heart contained in her thin 50-lb. frame and quelled some of her fears by letting her know that because it would be more difficult, there would be more chances to help her friends and that they would also help her. That seemed to both lift her spirits and offer some perspective on this type of interaction, which should surge beyond classrooms with bubble gum machine bulletin boards. She embraced the opportunities to both help and be helped. I think it’s a great attitude from which to gleam. It’s easy to get so focused on showcasing one’s own abilities that we fear what others will think if we ask for clarification or a helping hand. Other times we’re resistant to be that mentor which a less experienced cohort may require. The problem is that we all know how embracing both roles can save time, reduce mistakes and enhance the end result. Hopefully next time my daughter won’t need the same type of musical inspiration to show me the light.
- One of the more significant local stories here in Wisconsin, now that we have Brett Favre voodoo dolls at the ready, has been the loss of nearly 900 jobs at a Mercury Marine plant. Basically, the company wanted to re-structure a labor contract or they were going to move these positions to a non-union shop in Oklahoma. The union wouldn’t budge, so in a cost cutting measure, it looks like more boat motors will be coming from Sooner nation than America’s Dairyland. While I hate to see the jobs leave my native state it does make me wonder about the tactics the local union employed. The company stated that unless concessions were made, the jobs would leave. Workers voted against any changes and then seemed disappointed when Mercury made its decision. Granted, I don’t know the ins and outs of the situation and Mercury is going against a written agreement, but it made me wonder if unionized shops aren’t going the way of the Dodo? No one can argue their historical impact and relevance, but these jobs weren’t moved to Taiwan; they’re going to Stillwater, OK. Can U.S. manufacturing stay competitive with a unionized workforce? Is this really just one of a number of historical elements that are keeping American manufacturers from being competitive on a global scale? Innovation is what keeps all markets moving forward. Maybe it’s time to re-assess more than just manufacturing inefficiencies in this country, but also focus on the underlying fabrics of our production ideologies?
- Finally, I had another interesting conversation with my oldest daughter about Labor Day. Although I’m biased about the source, I have to say I was pretty impressed. Most 6-year-olds don’t care why they don’t have to go to school on a particular day. They’re just happy for the extra time at the playground, riding their bike and watching Phineas & Ferb (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_and_Ferb) cartoons. Describing to her why we all get a day off of work or school to celebrate one last dose of summer helped bring things into greater personal perspective. As soon as she learned that I didn’t have to go to work, she leapt off the couch and gave me a big hug. While the hug was great, it also brought home a pretty powerful point. I’ve stated in this space before how much I like what I do. That zeal and an embedded competitive drive often translates into longer hours, putting out fires over family dinners or possibly being interrupted during field trips to the zoo to answer work-related questions. Judging from your comments and the personal interactions we’ve had, I know you can appreciate my point. I’ll never vilify those things because it would be hypocritical. I also have zero guilt regarding the hours I work or explaining that dynamic to my daughters. However, maybe for one day we can all try to side-step those responsibilities and reflect on greater priorities. So I’d challenge you to take this upcoming Labor Day holiday to heart. While I initially figured I’d use part of it trying to catch up on e-mail and clear off some of those less pressing tasks, I’ll now try to resist that temptation. Penguins hate cell phone ringers anyway.
What’s rattling around in your head? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.