Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on starting your reliability journey and achieving financial independence. In our new podcast series, Ask a Plant Manager, Joe considers a commonplace scenario facing the industry and offers his advice, as well as actions that you can take to get on track tomorrow. This episode offers insight on how to upskill your department without hiring additional workers.
PS: So we're talking today about the skills gap. It's a really important issue affecting most manufacturers, if not all of them. So here's our question. This company has been tasked with addressing the skills gap left behind by retirements or other folks that have moved on at the company. But the option to hire more people is not realistic for this company. So Joe, how do they get more out of the staff that they already have? And upskill without a big budget?
JK: Yeah, great, great question. It’s a very common problem in plants today, and has been for at least a decade. I'll say that. So the problem is, you got 30,40 or 50 people in your plant and 10 people retired last year, five more left this year, five more are planning on leaving in six months, and you're not able to get the work done. That's the problem. I asked you not to think about the problem as we can't hire people. The problem is we can't get the work done in our plant with the number of people that we have. And the future just looks like it's going to be worse. Okay.
So the first thing I do, and if you've heard me before, I always start with this first step: You’ve got to understand the problem through observation. Okay, people are sitting around the conference room, not trying to offend anybody. You're using your experience, you're using some data that you have and say, five years ago, we were able to get all the work done, we need to hire X number more people. But the problem, like I said, the system only allows so much work to be done, the way it's set up today.
Understand that system with something I call chalk circle observation. You can look that up very simply. It is intense observation. So if you've got a medium-sized plant, I'm talking about going out and observing how work is done for 2,3, or 4 days, not hours, days. Understand the problem, understand how work is being executed today.
And expect to be shocked, okay, expect to be shocked. You're going to see things like overwhelming unplanned work emergency jobs pulling people off planned work, you're going to see poor coordination with production, you're going to see poor work instructions, like somebody doesn't know how to lock and tag something out, or they don't know how to do a job, right. And you have to get help.
These last two may shock you: at a lot of plants, they assign too many people to a job, they assigned three people to a two-person job, or three persons to a one-person job. And then also, this can be embarrassing, if your ego is too big. You're not assigning people enough work. So you assign a work crew to do a job in eight hours, and they get it done in four. And quite often in observation, you find out that people just aren't assigned enough work. But you only see this when you go out and look for the waste. When you spend days in observation. You could see this.
I walk into plants, every single one of them. I've been in over 40 plants. Every single one of them has told me this problem. We don't have enough people to start our reliability journey. We can't; our backlog is growing. They said all those same things. After a week of Kaizen, I mean in going out and doing this observation in teams, not just one person but going out maybe with the leadership team, understanding what waste is and going out and seeing how work is being executed.
One-hundred percent of them figure out that in six to eight months, they're going to have too many people, too many people because they see their work efficiency. measured by something called wrench time. I think everybody's heard of that. I've never been in a plant where I organized one of these guys in over 40 plants where the wrench time was above 15%. That's 15% doing effective work. Zero percent of the time has the work been the problem of the employee. It's the system that they're working in. And you can very easily get that 15% up to 20, 25 and 30%. In weeks, you can do things like if you say, hey, work is not being coordinated well with production, okay, we're going to sign a contract with production. And say, when we want the crane at 8:00 in the morning, the crane is parked in this bay at eight o'clock in the morning. Okay, something simple like that, instead of it being there around 9:00 or 9:30 or 10:00.
Adding a job kitter, this is one of the most powerful tools I've used at plants is to have a job kitter to put all the parts and pieces together for a job and stage them out at the job site within 10 feet of where the works going to be executed. With the equipment, you wouldn't believe how much time is wasted looking for parts, looking for gloves, looking for certain kinds of oils. looking for everything that's part of a job. It’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt for some of these crafts people. And that just eats away at efficiency. And if you can get your wrench time from 15 to 30%, you got twice as many effective people, 2x.
Step one: Chalk circle observation
I'm telling you, you add chalk circle to your dataset, and it completely changes this equation from ‘we can't hire people’ to ‘what are we going to do with these people.’ And that's a golden opportunity. You can upskill them, maybe start doing condition monitoring, start doing problem solving, maybe do some work that you used to send out to a contractor. But it all starts with observation and clearly understanding the problem. When I get asked and when somebody says here's our situation, we don't know what to do, what action should I take? I get asked that all the time. When people say that. That means to me, you're screaming at me. I did not do chalk circle observation. Chalk circle observation came out of the Toyota production system. In maintenance, I'm telling you, nobody does this or very few people do this. They take their KPIs, and they take their opinion and past experience. I'm not saying those are trash. But if you don't supplement that with intense observation, you're missing the picture. And you're confused. You don't know what actions to take.
So specific actions you can take: Do chalk circle observation. I'd love for you to organize the Kaizen and get five people on your leadership team involved in this. And because you can gather five times the number of observations, and make sure it's at least two or three days. Okay, that'd step one, if you can only do observation yourself, everybody thinks you're crazy, go do it yourself. It'll change how you do your job. It'll change it. Okay, do it yourself, you'll make better decisions be right more often. So that's number one. Do observation.
Step two: Create 30-day action plan
Number two: create 30-day action plans from that. I didn't say 60 and 90. I said 30-day action plans. I think that you will be shocked at the simple things you will identify. I can't believe we send a crew out to work on this overhead crane once a week and it's never ready. We send them out at 7:00 in the morning and the earliest they got on the crane was 9:30. That happens all the time. Then, they got done with the work at 1:00, and they didn't have any work to do the rest of the day, all the time. So create those 30-day action plans attacking the waste that you see.
Step three: champion your successes
And then the last thing that you need to do is always remember you're in sales. Maintenance people, you're in sales. Reliability people, you are in sales. So you’ve got to connect the dots with people. You’ve got to, at the end of the month, say, we put in this new contract with production. We put in this new kitter/stager, we've increased our wrench time from 15 to 22%. Here's what we're doing next. Because people don't necessarily see the successes that happened in reliability. So you’ve got to point it out to them. And they'll see it over the long term. But those short term gains aren't really seen unless you highlight it. So that's starts with observation, Anna.