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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saving Manufacturing Jobs: A Systems Perspective (aka the Baldrige Approach)

Posted by Christine Schaefer

Is there any hope for saving, even increasing, jobs in U.S. manufacturing plants? Adam Davidson probes this question in the January/February issue of The Atlantic and “illuminates why the job crisis will be so difficult to solve.” After reading Davidson’s piece, many readers may reach a deflating conclusion about the prospects for low-skilled workers in those manufacturing operations that are still based on American soil. After all, the jobs that manufacturers have greater reason not to move overseas (where labor costs may be cheaper) demand increasingly advanced knowledge and thinking skills, but many Americans are not gaining the requisite knowledge and skills in their schooling due to a host of social ills. Clearly, viable long-term employment in U.S. manufacturing is tied to a complex web of societal factors, with education being key. So it’s also clear–though somewhat daunting to realize, as everyone would prefer a quick fix to the nation’s jobs crisis–that strengthening U.S. workers’ prospects for lasting manufacturing employment will require an approach that is broad and deep.
Factoryconnecting
But here’s the good news: Many organizations have already begun implementing such an approach– through their use of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. While the Baldrige program was launched nearly 25 years to help manufacturers in particular become more competitive globally, the Criteria questions have been revised regularly, annually or biannually, to stay current with leading management practices and insights on performance excellence. Perhaps more important, the systems perspective at the core of the Baldrige Criteria remains as relevant as ever to today’s complex economic maladies.
The Criteria’s wide-lens approach to improving performance aims for alignment among all of an organization’s work processes and systems. And the focus extends not only to all internal operations but also to the social, economic, and educational systems that help shape the external environment in which an an organization operates. For example, the first category of the Criteria examines how organizational leaders address potential societal impacts of their operations and proactively support their communities’ well-being.
Moreover, the three versions of the Criteria for Performance Excellence help business/nonprofit, health care, and education organizations bring the Baldrige approach to every sector, so that all interdependent entities in U.S. society can perform better, reinforcing excellent results for all. Businesses that wish to ensure their long-term sustainability in an increasingly complex and competitive global economic arena would do well to adopt a systems approach to improving and innovating their operations. But that’s not enough. To ensure that local communities can deliver well-educated, innovation-minded workers long into the future, manufacturers need schools (elementary and secondary as well as higher education organizations) to achieve performance excellence, supporting and advancing student learning that keeps pace with industry needs. Likewise, manufacturers and other organizations benefit from having health care providers in their communities that have adopted the Baldrige approach, so that their pursuit of continuous improvement and breakthrough innovation delivers highly effective, affordable care and promotes strong community health and wellness.
In this way, the Baldrige Criteria’s wide and deep approach to performance excellence in every sector can offer hope not only for saving and growing American manufacturing jobs, but for boosting the economic prospects and well-being of all Americans. The approach offered in the Baldrige Criteria just may be the nation’s best hope for creating long-term jobs.

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