Column Lean Manufacturing Management Training Work Processes Workforce

Prepare for A Strong Economy

Bob Williamson | January 25, 2018

Most plants and facilities will feel some impact, big or small, sooner or later, from the new economy.

Welcome to 2018 and a much stronger and growing economy. While some businesses are seeing results now, others are waiting to see what comes next.

Whether your business is on the leading edge of the new economy or not, most plants and facilities will feel some impact—big or small, sooner or later. Here’s a preview of likely effects and suggestions on how to prepare.


The labor pool for manufacturing, skilled maintenance, and hands-on technical jobs will continue to shrink. Baby Boomers’ skill sets haven’t been replaced by subsequent generations. New equipment technologies on the plant floor will continue to outpace workplace skill sets, partly for lack of effective training and partly for lack of people with the time and/or aptitude to master many applied new-tech skills.

Now is the time to fundamentally re-think past training practices (or the lack thereof). Set aside time for formal equipment-specific training and structured hands-on job training (OJT) for the right people developing the right skills.


Given the skills gaps in both the workplace and labor pool, we must think beyond maintenance tasks being performed only by maintenance personnel. Important, but lower-skill-level, tasks can, and should, be performed by equipment operators—the single, largest group closest to the equipment. Trained equipment operators are, by far, the best form of preventive maintenance in the plant. This task collaboration also allows higher-skilled maintenance technicians to focus on tasks requiring their skill sets and allows time to master any new technologies that could be coming into the plant.

Sounds like Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), doesn’t it? Yes, but TPM in America was rarely deployed as designed. The interdependent nature of the six or eight Pillars of TPM was largely ignored in favor of only involving operators. This single-mindedness missed the whole point of TPM being a focused-improvement strategy based on business needs rather than a program to implement.


The past decade’s lackluster economy led to compensation stagnation in many businesses. In a booming economy, some businesses will be granting pay increases in part to make up for losses of the past and attract new skills.

The downside: Pay increases without productivity increases contribute to higher operating costs and smaller profit margins. In good times, higher costs and lower margins can be masked by strong revenues and earnings. But what happens if/when business slows?

Don’t hesitate to consider “variable compensation,” including pay-at-risk, profit sharing, productivity bonuses linked to business performance, and pay-for-applied skills to help address shortages. Skill-based pay is awarded as new skills, designed to improve plant performance, are mastered through a formal training and qualification process and deployed in the plant. EP

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the “people side” of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at




Bob Williamson

Bob Williamson

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