Once again there appeared a newspaper article about manufacturing output resurgence without an accompanying increase in manufacturing employment.

When was it that journalists stopped being overtly opinionated or merely reporters and started trying to write about things of which they have no knowledge but in which they decide to slip in opinions through the back door, as it were?

Granted, the writer wasn’t overtly talking about “Lean Manufacturing” as in derivatives of the Toyota Production System. The article only through out a sentence of opinion presented as fact that manufacturers were “lean,” as if that were bad.

My first nine years in manufacturing were spent in a great learning environment. I learned many manufacturing techniques. I tried to be “just in time” long before the term was popular (we called it maximizing inventory turns). We did many Lean manufacturing things before there was an official Lean.

Drive for productivity

The discipline of effective cost control was drilled into me early on, and it remains. (I cringe at the lack of cost control in my church today, to be honest.) But we never just looked at cutting jobs just to cut jobs.

The mantra was, “If you cut a dollar of material, we save that on every product. If you reduce labor content by an hour, we really don’t know that the company saved anything in the big scheme of things.” You look at details and think in the big picture.

Lean misunderstood

The first principle is that Lean manufacturing does not mean getting rid of people. The first principle is respect for people. If I could get journalists to try to understand anything when writing about manufacturing, that would be the one thing.

The next principle is that productivity drives the country’s growth in wealth. Productivity is producing more efficiently and effectively. Granted that there are short-sighted executives who think they can cut to prosperity. They ignore facts that that never happens. There exist many mature managers (I have personally visited with quite a few) who are doing the right things right.

Growth in employment comes from doing more things, not in just adding people to do the same things. One of the problems with manufacturing employment in the US has been knee-jerk sending jobs offshore. But that fad is over. Executives now see all the costs this strategy and have brought many jobs back.

However, we have also discovered that it makes a lot of sense to manufacture products geographically closer to the market. This creates a huge dispersion of jobs, which will in turn lead to growing global middle class. This in turn will be a stabilizing force for global politics. There is much reason for optimism for the future.


That writer could add to overall employment by taking those writing skills, develop a focal point, and start a small Web-based media site to cover a topic. Then hire a few people.

Growth in manufacturing jobs occurs mostly when someone develops a new product that meets a social need and then builds a plant to produce that product. She or he will hire engineers, operators, maintenance people, accountants, and so on.

We need more Elan Musks!

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