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Production Jobs…More than the sterotypes suggest.

January 29, 2014 Leave a comment

I have been working in production now for six years and have come across a similar reaction when describing my job to friends and family. That well it won’t be forever look and the consoling words that come from the desk jockeys who have never operated an industrial machine in their lives can be infuriating.
Indeed the fairytale of WWII factory workers building the equipment to safe the lives of American soldiers overseas has long since devolved away to an all time low, in my almost humble opinion. Low Education, Loves physical labor, bottom of the barrel…such is the stereotype of the American factory worker.

I started looking around the web for some comforting news about the image of factory workers. My google search first turned up a yahoo answers page. The question (What is the stereotype of a factory worker?) was answered by three people:
1.PepperEva said, “They had some tough luck. Maybe they made bad choices, maybe things happened that they couldn’t control, maybe they like working a factory. Maybe they want to run one some day. I generally just think, huh, a job. I doubt I’ll get a steady job doing what I love. I’ll probably take the work I can get and do what I love in my free time.”
2.Apple Jacks said, “uneducated.”
3.Vanessa said, “Poor.”

…not a very reassuring find for the image of the factory worker.

The Actuality

As I was bouncing around safety blogs and came across an article in http://www.impomag.com that gave some stark facts that describe the reality of factory workers. The article was written by Nancy Syverson, Managing Editor. It is entitled, “Who Works in Your Plant? A Profile of Today’s American Factory Worker.”

Today’s factory workers are educated and well paid

Syverson’s article had some facts:

Myth: Factory workers are low paid.
•Fact: According to recent reports, the average manufacturing wage is $54,000 per year, 18% higher than the average U.S. wage.

Myth: Factory workers are high-school dropouts.
•Fact: Some 78% of the manufacturing workforce has a high-school or greater education.

Myth: Factory jobs require vocational education, which attracts students who are less qualified in other areas.
•Fact: According to NAM, today’s manufacturers seek a range of skills that include hands-on abilities as well as math, science and computer use.

Myth: You have to be a union member to work in a factory.
•Fact: Unions represents only about 20% of all factory workers, down from 25% five years ago. Currently 22 right-to-work states give factory workers the choice of belonging to a union or not.

Myth: The burden of benefit costs have been shifted to the employee in manufacturing as in other industries.
•Fact: More than 80% of manufacturers still pay the bulk of employees’ medical benefits, including dental.

Myth: Factory work requires physical labor and can be dangerous.
•Fact: Certain factory work will always require physical labor, but automation and ergonomic awareness have reduced that type of work, resulting in a 40% decrease in workplace injuries over the past decade.

Using current demographic data, a new picture of the modern factory worker emerges. Tough, hardworking and determined, America’s factory workers are faced with challenges that often require more smarts than strength.

Some further digging found an article published in http://www.breakingout.net by Kevin Wells. His article Why It’s Important to Cut Loose contrasts working in production and working in a cubical. “The term “factory workers” doesn’t have to be taken literally,” Wells says, “Most people in the Western world nowadays are actually office workers, but – same difference. In the West, office work is the new factory work. When I worked in offices the people I encountered were pretty much the same as the old factory worker stereotype. It makes not a jot of difference whether you are blue collar or white collar.”

My Experience

I work with Pepperidge Farm in Bloomfield Connecticut, where we make an enormous amount of Bread and Stuffing.  I can count a half-dozen other employees I personally deal with daily on the production floor that have at least a Bacheller’s degree. Pepperidge Farm pays better than most jobs in the area and we all know that there are lists of people waiting to get a shot working here. The factory uses more machines than manual labor, which creates the rise of computer savvy machine operators. These operators are highly skilled problem solvers who invest themselves in the million-dollar machines they operate.

Yes the American factory worker is in dire need of a PR campaign. This down-and-out reputation does not reflect the dedication, education and technical skill that is mandatory in today’s workforce.

A Few Words from the Crossroads.

July 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Crossroads

Let’s be honest. If you have been in the workforce for any length of time, whether in safety or not, there come times in your career(s) when you reach the crossroads. Those times in your career when you see your future spanning two very different directions. Either reality yields a dramaticly different result that you and your loved ones will reap the consequences of it for years to come.

Such is my position. I have taken on the responsibility of Occupational Health and Safety Manager for the Pepperidge Farm Plant in Bloomfield, Ct.. The position is a dream job I have been training for for my entire college experience. The opportunity is stupendous. The geography is the challenge. Three teenage daughters and a cross country move yields an explosive outcome. My wife has been toting the line of motivating the kids while dealing with the pressures of a move. She is in the trenches packing and supporting her parents family with upcoming weddings and births. She is neck deep in projects.

And then there is me. Standing at the crossroads, looking down one road to Connecticut and the other to Utah. My future lies in Connecticut, but I find that moving is a constant gut-check.

Professionally, I have been keeping myself busy. I have been gleaning safety management ideas from mentors and reviewing case studies in an effort to start supporting this new safety responsibility.

The advice I received surprised me at first. It was uniform, yet specialized. The crux of it bears repeating and I have decided to parrot many of the ideas and objectives here.

According to my sources, the following ideas will ease a manager’s transition:

B560041141. Wander. By far the most common bit of advice I received was to wander the plant. Wander the factory floor, learn the names of the employees, learn the names of the machines and the processes that the ingredients have to undergo to turn in to delicious treats.

Wandering allows for you to be seen, and being seen is a part of establishing influence as a manager. Giving others access to you while allowing them to see your human, conversational side creates an influence of trust and dependability.

Wandering as a Safety professional provides yet another benefit…work. I learned firsthand from performing safety audits that the more you look, the more you see. The more wandering you do, the more angles you catch and the deeper into the plant you see.

So, wander. Wander like you’ve never wandered before!

Listen2. Listen. Safety Managers are hired for their unique knowledge and expertise. They implement programs and plans that will save companies hundreds of thousands (dare I say millions) of dollars. That being said, for a Safety Manager to come running in, both barrells blazing, taking on the responsibility alone and closing all the gaps in the plant at once is stupid. Listen, Listen, Listen!

I have heard the sad tale I just described a few times in my recent interviews. Not surprisingly it doesn’t go well. I know of one situation where the Safety Manager actually kept his job (after a gruelling professional lesson learned). All of the others did not fare as well.

A title gives permission to perform duties. The influence comes after a Safety Manager inserts themself into the work culture.

The “newbie” is best served listening to the experience of the experienced. Machine operators know more about their own machines than the Safety Manager does. Plain and simple.

Listening will open a dialogue and with that dialogue a better risk assessment can be performed.

3. Follow up. The most imporatant words in business are “follow up.” Even (and especially) when there is no vital information to share. If you are waiting for engineering to come back with an answer then by golly go tell that to the operator. What you are really telling the machine operator is that you value their time, their job experience, and their personal safety by seeing their request through to the end.

The employees you care for must know that you have their backs.

4. Use an action register. Make a list of what you are working on, who the contact people are, and all suggestions you get during the day. Post them and keep up on the list daily. It will help keep you on task and it will report for you when your superiors stop by for unannounced visits.

5. Tote the Corporate Line. Hold the corporate line. Your first few months are essential. People will look for your boundaries and first impressions are lasting. It is essential to show your commitment to the company line.

When I was a teenager, one of my personal Heroes, Karl Farnsworth, gave me a gem of wisdom.

“On One Side of you are your people,” he said.

“On the other side of you is your boss.” He then paused for dramatic effect.

“Which way do you face?”

I thought it over and the lesson was clear to me…Tote the company line. Let your people follow you.

Achieve small victories6. Achieve small victories. Pluck the low hanging fruit during the first few months. I have never walked into a facility for the first time without identifying at least one safety issue that must be addressed. Go get some small victories. The workers will see that you are someone who gets things done. They can see the effect of you being around.

7. Avoid the “program of the month” club. Celebrate your victories internally. Avoid the frills and “life-changing rollouts” with new programs. If the safety program is viable it will take on a life of its own. People will follow it and it will become part of the work culture. THEN celebrate the program. If the program bombs when you implement it, then you will have far less egg on your face and it will be easier to dismiss. If the program suceeds then you will find that your influence in the plant will skyrocket.

Like I said at the top of this article, these are the seven pieces of advice everyone I interviewed had in common. Surprising to me during the interviews, but understandable to me now that I review them. They are conservative and have the advantage of being tested over time. They are universal, crossing industry lines and working uniformally. Knowing this yields confidence and makes me excited to get started on the right foot…

…now to get my teenagers on board.