I mostly go to factories in the Guangdong province. Over the last few months, I have heard complaints such as “we are trying to hire, but we can’t find enough workers”. I even heard “it’s nearly Chinese New Year, the workers that stayed in their home province don’t want to come back working here for only a few months”.
There is a quantitative shortage of workers in the South, to be sure. 2007 was probably worse. And 2010 might be even worse. Why? There are more and more reasonably-paid jobs in inner provinces and in Fujian/Zhejiang/Jiangsu, so fewer migrant workers come to Guangdong.
Why such a focus on the number of workers? Isn’t the real problem the quality/competency of the workers? And what is the root cause, if not the misconceptions of local manufacturers?
David Dayton, who writes the excellent SRI blog, reported a conversation he had with several factory bosses. He described how some factory owners feel about their workers, and what they do about it. It runs counter to the most basic recommendations for gaining in quality and efficiency. For fun, I compared it to the advice given by W. Edwards Deming (a prominent quality expert that is held in high regard by most Japanese manufacturers) and condensed into his famous 14 points.
I compared several sentences from the SRI blog post to Deming’s corresponding points:
SRI blog post: “No one cares. There is no desire to do anything well. People just want to do their job, not think, and go home. No one really tries to do a good job and nobody cares if they do it wrong.”
Deming point 11: “Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship”
SRI blog post: Do it or you’re fired! More than once these guys all said that without this threat they wouldn’t get much of anything done. Since managers can’t solve many problems they are where the proverbial buck stops. They said they use this threat all the time and every now and then actually do fire someone to keep the threat real.
Deming point 8: “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company”
SRI blog post: Over specialization. Under-skilled employees are just too specialized and so can’t be counted on to either do other jobs or creatively solve problems; it requires a lot of training (e.g. money) to get them to be able to do other jobs. You can hire a ton of people off the street to do simple stuff, but finding skilled professionals for more sensitive positions is much more difficult.
Deming point 9: “Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service”
Deming point 6: “Institute training on the job”
Oh and while I’m at it, I can also list some other points that run counter to what I observe in nearly every factory I visit:
- Point 1: “Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business”
- Point 3: “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place”
- Point 4: “End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost”
- Point 5: “Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity”