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11 comments

The New Blue Collar

Posted April 19, 2010 9:00 AM by ssweeney

I was at the gym during my lunch hour and watching programs on the various TVs as stories peaked my interest. I saw a promo on CNN for an upcoming feature on new high-tech jobs replacing old low-tech manufacturing jobs. The news network featured a South Carolina Machining Company called Adex Machining Technologies. This company focuses on the machinists who are designing fixtures using CAD and developing toolpaths using CAM. And these workers are also the ones on the floor machining the parts!

The point to this story is that these are good-paying jobs. They're skilled jobs, too - not the dirty, unskilled manufacturing jobs of the past. (CNN called it lean manufacturing.) Another point to consider is that one person can do all of the jobs required to get the parts made. There is no division of skilled and less-skilled workers. This is the essence of what we have been preaching at my company, Kubotek, a maker of 3D geometry-based engineering software.

What is your company doing to reduce the barriers between design and manufacturing so that one person or team can do the whole job?

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#1

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/19/2010 12:35 PM

Another point to consider is that one person can do all of the jobs required to get the parts made.

Not all people, when a person is made to wear many hats, (take on many different responsibility's) things suffer usually quality and efficiency.

Some people can over come this, more people can't or are not willing.

p911

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/19/2010 1:47 PM

The company must empower train and implement policies that foster this type of work environment. There are rewards for both employees and companies that adopt these practices.

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 2:04 AM

I do not agree with your stated position as a generality. Yes, there is merit to the idea of having machines do the work of humans. Automation of production machinery is an excellent example. In the machine shop promoting the skilled operator to doing his own setups and then creating the CNC machining programs is really just a modern version of the training of skilled machinists in the use of conventional machine tools. There was a time a couple of decades back when you had to be an engineer to program a numerical control machine tool. Now the new "machinist" can learn the setup and control of the new generation of machine tools as he advances in his career without having the training of a degreed engineer.

But in the world of work we see many other cases where the "empowerment" of workers means that they get the "privilege" of spending more than just some of their time doing work at well below their skill levels. This is an engineering forum; so I will cite an example where the sort of thing advocated in fact has very unrewarding effects.

Mechanical engineering in product manufacturing companies has in the last generation morphed into a largely sub professional activity in which a majority of time is spent drafting, technician, clerical and materials management activities that in times past were the duties of non-exempt staff. This has led to engineers being "empowered" to do themselves all the things needed to make their projects happen. So we have the picture of the exempt engineer spending days doing sub professional work and unpaid evenings and weekends doing creative and analytical work he/she trained for. Rather than feeling rewarded the engineer becomes ever more frustrated and embittered as his hard won but now unused analytical skills wither through short half lives and he now finds that he is really just a draftsman with an engineering degree.

Of course management likes this because they are able to lay off much of the engineering department staff including layers of management. The current enormous oversupply of degreed engineers supplemented by hundreds of thousands of H1B'shelps facilitate this.

So what we are seeing now is that the new "blue collar" worker will need an advanced degree in studies he/she will never use just to have a chance at being picked for a job. Even now we are seeing new health care workers like pharmacists and physical therapists with doctorate degrees. There is currently a bill in committee in the California Legislature to among other things allow these and many other skilled health care workers to use the title "doctor" professionally if they have earned a phD in that area of technology. (the state's physicians are not too happy about this).

You call this rewarding? ........Ed Weldon

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#4
In reply to #3

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 8:53 AM

well said, Ed.

I have seen and experienced it the opposite, where the Mechanical engineer was used to do these tasks. Operate, program and maintenance, why because it was easier, efficient compared to a season full-time operator, by no means. worthwhile to the company. Yes, how, in many ways, the engineer is salaried, don't think for one second the engineer works out his take home pay backwards to see how much he makes hourly with overtime. Its can be disappointing,

The engineer is spread thin in all ways, mentally and physically, just like as the OP would call it blue collar would be doing.

Its very interesting at first, then you burn out, and begin making mistakes due to fatigue, burnout, overwhelming workload. All the training in the world will not help unless the training includes a class that teaches you to stand up and say no. Especially when the company trained you to do all the tasks, they may not be all that willing to hire more people.

You have to look at it the long term. And you bring in people in a controlled way. And basically cross train

p911

ps my spell check is not working properly, so bear with me.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 9:13 AM

My editing time run out

Operate, program and maintenance, why because it was easier, efficient compared to a season full-time operator, by no means. worthwhile to the company.

Operate, program and maintenance, why by no means easier compared to a full time operator. but still worth while to the company.

p911

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#6

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 9:14 AM

i think what you have described is a start in the right direction for this country. if we are to survive we need to build a better product that the rest of the world can and will buy. if our product is better we can charge a higher price. automation is the only way we will be competetive with asia. that gives us a chance to compete on the basis of price and quality. my business is mechanical service and building automation controls. i did see this coming years in advance and i have invested in training and equipment and software to improve efficiency. we now have internet in all the trucks with printers so my techs can access qb online and leave an invoice upon completion. they also have access to schedule and tech assistance and we can enter time sheets right on the job. this allows me to maintain my price level and remain profitable. the point is whether i like it or not we are in this global whatever and the dream economy has met it's logical end. to survive and thrive we all have to look at the future and the realities and mold ourselves to what is and not what we would like. jfk made a famous statement to this effect.

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#7
In reply to #6

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 9:45 AM

The hierarchical exempt versus non-exempt labor vs management days brought down Detroit. There is a new way, that requires new thinking and attitudes. We can't look back at the way things used to be. The only way is forward. This IS the new American Manufacturing paradigm.

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#8

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 9:51 AM

This is the direction American manufacturing and technology development has been going and needs to go. We cannot compete head-to-head with emerging world workers who are happy to make 1/10th of our salary to do the same work. Either they'll come here (legally or not) or the work will go to them. Forget about large numbers of Americans making a living bolting or welding parts together. Where we must compete is in more "advanced" trades/jobs.

Computers and programs we develop are supposed to take over the simplistic grunt work, and they do, meaning the same person - perhaps with some education - who used to simply push buttons and flip levers can now do more of the design, as cited. Let's see the dirt-poor laborer in any of dozens of 2nd or 3rd world countries do THAT. (Just give them a generation or two, and they will. Then we'll have to take another step up the value-added stairs.)

I've seen the "blue collar" syndrome too, though. I served ten years of hard time in the video game industry. Engineers need to look at forming unions in SOME cases, or finding other ways to keep The Man from over-exploiting our talents. The soot-covered manufacturers of yesteryear did it. If "management" expects "white collar" to do "blue collar," then maybe "white collar" needs to utilize some of "blue collar's" tricks.

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#9
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Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 11:41 AM

We're forgetting something here. As we move into a technologically advanced world where one person can do the work previously done by several we have tended to forget the effects on those potential workers in our society that are no longer needed.

I recall the "futurists" of 30-40 years ago and their New Years day predictions of a world where automation would enable people to work only 2 hours a day and have the rest of the time for recreation, etc. Has anybody noticed that this didn't happen?

Instead we have many people working longer hours and growing unemployment problems. For years we kept this problem at bay with an artificially induced culture of borrow and consume. We held back the tide so to speak until the flood gates finally broke and the water flowed toward its natural level. A large segment of the population is working enormously longer hours (note families have mostly two workers instead of the single worker of 40 years ago) and accumulating staggering wealth (at least on paper). The rest are facing a future of low level employment that will barely keep a roof over their heads and feed them.

Yes, there will be opportunities for those with the right combination of talent, education, energy and personal discipline to work the new blue collar jobs. But only a delusional dreamer will find similar opportunities today for the rest who in generations past had a way to turn their manual labor into a ticket to middle class prosperity . Instead, the weeding process that, even as we speak, is getting ever more brutal and competitive (mandatory passage of algebra to graduate high school) is creating a population group of designated losers. Do you really think that your bright, witty, but dyslectic kid who can't grasp algebra is going to be happy emptying bed pans in a convalescent home?

I could go on about how this will play out in an America that appears unready culturally, politically and legally to deal with it. But that's for some other topic or venue.

Ed Weldon

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 12:49 PM

I could go on about how this will play out in an America that appears unready culturally, politically and legally to deal with it. But that's for some other topic or venue.

This seems pretty on-topic. I'm interested in some details.

We still have lawns, roads, things to guard, things to paint, shelves to stock, fast food to sling, enemies to shoot, etc. Is there enough to go around? I guess that's your question.

A new CCC (that might become inevitable in this economy) would be a temporary fix and buy us some time to adapt.

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#11
In reply to #10

Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 3:50 PM

We still have lawns, roads, things to guard, things to paint, shelves to stock, fast food to sling, enemies to shoot, etc.

Maybe thats the actual definition of todays blue collar labor, nothing to do with automation and technology.

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CONWAYMECH (1); Ed Weldon (2); Lynn.Wallace (2); phoenix911 (4); ssweeney (2)

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