The manufacturing industry and education: Let’s cut the crap and discover the gap

Tuesday September 16, 2014
Written by Karin Lindner
Sept. 16, 2014 - A very wise man once told me that if we are not aware of certain things, we cannot acknowledge them, which means we won’t be able to change them. Wise words, indeed.

In January 2014, I started to teach "The Impact of Culture on the Canadian Workplace" and "Communication" in Sheridan College’s Faculty of Science and Technology. I am very grateful for this opportunity, as it is in alignment with my vision to bring industry and education closer together. It is important to understand the challenges, needs and opportunities of both education and industry.

Working with these young people is really eye opening for me, so I want to share what I have observed so far.

A passion for excellence
Most of these young people are absolutely eager, willing and able to provide value. They want to work hard, and be innovative and creative. However, I don’t really notice a passion for excellence, and I don’t think that most of these young, mainly international students even know what this means.

I believe colleges have to showcase excellence from the outset. The professors have to be exceptionally organized and lead by example, and expectations and standards have to be clear right from the start. This will guarantee a different dynamic in college and university programs.

An entrepreneurial mindset
Many young people think that as soon as they graduate from college or university, they can stop learning and start working. I think this is the message that we send: We go to school to learn and we go to work to work.

It is so important to reinforce the value of continuous learning. This is a necessity these days. How else can people stay current in this constantly changing, fast-paced world? They also have to be able to learn from their mistakes, which will help them improve their way of thinking and contribute to their personal growth.

It’s critical to teach our young people how to think instead of what to think. I always tell my students that everything is “figureoutable.” We don’t need more followers; we want people who are able to take initiative, demonstrate responsibility and have the ability to find solutions for their daily challenges.

In our current work environments, we have created an unfortunate co-dependency — people wait until someone tells them what to do. This hampers our ability to be competitive in a global marketplace. This is a problem because cycle times are shorter and decisions have to be made faster. Lost time means lost money.

The key is to have inquisitive students and employees who learn to ask the right questions instead of providing the right answers. Can you imagine the impact this will have?

The power of self
Self-awareness, self-improvement, self-discipline and self-confidence are skills that we have to start implementing in the curriculum at school, and pay more attention to at work. Allow me to explain.

Before I started to teach at the college, I didn’t know some students actually try to negotiate their grades. This was unheard of when I went to school in Austria. I know about negotiating a salary, vacation time and I have even negotiated a better price for a leather purse in Italy. But negotiating a grade?

I was also surprised that many students come in late or don’t show up at all. If they don’t learn these disciplines at home, we have to teach them at school. I made it very clear to my students that I evaluate attitude, attendance and effort in equal measure to their assignments. The students have to know standards and expectations. They have to learn how to control their attitude to handle challenges in the best possible way. It is as simple as that.

Almost everyone today talks about world-class manufacturing, lean, continuous improvement, quality standards and standardized work, but not too many individuals in companies seem to talk about their own personal self-improvement. Whenever I ask individuals — in the college or in the workplace — about their strengths, weaknesses, talents, accomplishments and values, most of them seem to be completely lost. They struggle to come up with an answer. How can a company believe they have high-quality standards if the people who work there don’t even know what they themselves are good at or what they stand for? Ultimately, their self-confidence will be low and eventually the fear factor will set in and take control over their whole day. Trust me, fearful employees can never be productive and innovative employees.

In order to provide the necessary skills, colleges and manufacturing companies have started to collaborate, but this needs to happen more. We have to realize that the basics have become a problem. We are looking for a skilled workforce, but people don’t have basic life skills. If we neglect this important foundation, we will have nothing on which to build. We have to continue what we started, but we have to do it more deliberately and with greater care.


Karin Lindner is a speaker, author, corporate coach and facilitator. She is the founder and owner of Karico Performance Solutions, aimed at helping individuals and manufacturing companies become the best they can be.



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