More signs urge us forward to fix the maintenance crisis

Aug. 9, 2010
Joel Leonard, contributing editor, continues to cross the globe, spreading his maintenance message to everyone he meets.

Let’s get the world to take maintenance and reliability as seriously as it takes the World Cup and other games. If so, many of our preventable problems would disappear.

Unbelievably, while on this mission to learn more about the maintenance crisis worldwide and share my concerns about pending disasters that need to be prevented, I learned that the largest fuel tank in North Carolina exploded after receiving a lighting strike. I checked news reports online and saw that the owners said it was an act of God and this couldn’t have been avoided. What a cop-out.

I wrote to the editor of the local newspaper to say that the owner needed to read his history books and learn that, more than 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin developed lighting rods that mitigated the effects of lighting. With modern technology, there’s really no legitimate excuse for this explosion, which injured numerous firefighters and caused major disruption in the area. Later, I learned a full investigation is being conducted to determine why the tank farm’s lightning suppression system failed.

This worldwide journey is exhausting. However, every day proves to me that I’m meant to be on this mission. The “coincidences” that occur push me onward and propel me forward with the crusade. For example, on the flight back from the Honeywell Users Group conference in Phoenix, a 19-year-old sat beside me. He was an immature freshman and had been thrown out of college for a rules infraction. Before he knew who I was, this young man wanted to learn what he needed to know to get a job as a manufacturing technician. I almost leapt out of my seat with glee. Then, on the connection from Dallas, I sat near four Aussies and a New Zealander who gave me lots of tips and insights for my pending trip to Adelaide for the ICOMS conference. And believe it or not, on the flight to Australia, I rode with 80 sixth-graders who were on a trip to see the world. I was able to talk to the guidance counselors and dozens of the kids about the future opportunities in maintenance. I tried to dispel the myths they already have at 11 years of age. I wanted to deepen their appreciation for our function so that they either pursue or support our profession in the future. By the way, they loved the maintenance crisis songs and sang them with me on our flight.


Upon arriving at Adelaide after a 30-hour trip, I strolled through town to see the local markets and learn more about Aussie culture. Aussies are very warm, but also have a strange sense of humor as they cope with the challenge of being remote in sometimes harsh climates and enduring severe droughts. In this vast continent, the geographic equivalent to United States in size, only 22 million people call Australia home. Most reside in coastal communities and the mega-cities of Melbourne, Sydney to the east, Perth to the west and Adelaide in South Australia. However in the harsh environments of the outback and northern shores are numerous mineral deposits, where companies pay large wages and steal talent away from critical functions in the populated areas. Numerous Australian personnel agencies have help wanted signs in their windows, and they advertise at the airports and on billboards in quest of skilled personnel. The unemployment rate is only around 5%. Understand electricians, or "sparkies" as the Aussies call them, make 36-40 dollars per hour, and if they work underground in the mining industry, they can easily surpass $100,000 per year. 

This is my first visit to a place that uses the fair-wage system, and it produces interesting cost and wage dynamics. At restaurants, the cost of most items is almost double the cost here. Also, the service workers make 18-24 dollars/hour, but with no tips to supplement their income. At first, I scoffed at the fair-wage idea entering the United States. Then I realized that it might reduce the saturation of restaurants and encourage more home-cooked meals that would help reduce obesity and diabetic epidemics. More of those workers could pursue technical trades.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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