The results that you get from equipment always depends upon the quality of the training that the employees receive for that equipment. This is a very relevant point today because you may have just made a major purchase at the Clean Show and are very eager to get it into your plant so that it may begin earning its keep. That makes perfect sense to me. But there is a potential pitfall and, worse, a killer path that can doom the best laid plans. Let’s lay out a couple of classic examples, what usually happens and how to avoid a deadly situation.
Your Cissel topper and Hoffman legger have been around since Spiro Agnew, and although Alice can still bang out 35 pants per hour when the machines are running correctly, the time has come to say goodbye. You are going to buy a double-legger at the Clean Show in Atlanta. You have done all your homework. You have called other people that own one. You have visited other plants that have one. You felt quite smart to have gone so far as to have had conversations with the pressers that actually use the equipment. Everything has been favorable. You talked to your dealer and his mechanic. You get a green light from them too. It comes down to dollars and cents, but even that is not going to be a dealer breaker, it is just going to be a matter of making sure that you get the best deal. Truth be told, the labor savings will be paying for this machine. Your research has shown that most of the people that you have spoken to that are currently using this machine are getting in between 55-60 pants per hour. Since you consider yourself to be a pretty good operator, you believe that you will be in that group.
Here is how you have broken down the labor cost and labor savings.
At 35 pants per hour, Alice now works 38 hours per week to press pants at your plant. You average 1330 pants per week. Alice makes $20 per hour. With payroll tax, payroll expense and worker’s comp., etc., she costs you $24.75 per hour. With the new equipment, Alice will only need to work 24 when she gets 55 pants per hour. This is a savings of (a whopping) $346.50 per week or (4.3 weeks per month) $1489.95 per month. Plenty enough to cover any lease payment or amortize any loan.
That’s the plan and it is an excellent one. I would submit that plan to anyone that cared to ask me for such. In the interest of being thorough – or call it realistic if you like – you can create a sliding scale plan so that Alice can acclimate to the new equipment. At first, she will only attain a modest improvement in productivity, but then will steadily improve and attain the goal of 55 PPH in 6 weeks. That plan looks like this:
|Week #||PPH||Hours Used||Labor Cost||Labor Savings|
Even with this plan, you begin saving enough money immediately to make payments on your new press. So, what is wrong with this plan? Or any plan? Equipment does not come with a built-in manager, a cattle prod, or a penalty for non-compliance.
Without trying to sound like the grim reaper, but rather just simply reading from my diary, here is what really happens:
“Alice, I bought you a brand-new pants press in Atlanta. It is amazing!”
You hand her the brochure.
“Wow! That’s great boss! This clunker (she motions to her old and worn pants press) has seen better days. When is it coming in?”
“It’ll be a couple of weeks. One of the keys to success with this new machine is going to be better productivity. We are going to be looking for 55 pants per hour. No more late days. And in the heat of the summer, you know how you want to get out of here ASAP.”
“That’ll be great. I can hardly wait!”
The big day comes, and the equipment is installed. I am going to go with the best-case scenario and presume that your dealer has not thrown you to the wolves and you have a factory rep or someone equally qualified to train your presser at least to a certain extent. It is the plant manager’s job to learn to use the new equipment and be an expert at it. In fact, it is the manager that should be trained, not the presser. This is where the best laid plans all go to hell in a handbasket. But the harsh reality is that, at the end of the day, there is no one in the plant that is really very good at running the new equipment. And there is no one to orchestrate the excellent training plans that have been designed if no one can train a presser.
In real life, this is what is likely to happen:
- The manager doesn’t get training.
- I cannot stress enough how bad this is. How can the manager supervise, correct, criticize, commend, oversee, reprimand or retrain an employee at a job station at which he/she has zero knowledge and zero experience. It is not possible. It makes much more sense for the presser to be on a 2-hour smoke break while the plant manager learns the job inside out than for the presser to learn the job while the manager remains oblivious.
- The manager does not supervise.
- Almost the same thing. The presser forgets a couple of key steps and is never corrected. Skipping these steps adversely affects the quality of the finished product and/or the pieces per hour productivity. If productivity is affected, then the savings that this entire endeavor was about goes out the window. If quality is affected…
- …Alice confides in you that the new machine is nice, but “if you go fast, it doesn’t do a good quality job.”
- Ping! She has just plunked your vulnerable nerve! You never considered that quality was at stake. You never thought that you were rolling the dice on quality. You did your homework, but maybe those other cleaners don’t care about quality like you do!
We may not really know what is going on here. Perhaps Alice did some math and realized that you are going to save a bunch of labor dollars, but they are going to come out of her pocket. Is there a quality issue? If your manager cannot press perfect pants on the machine, was he/she trained? Was the manager trained by the presser? Yikes! This has become very ugly, very quickly.
The short of it is this: Make 100% sure that your new equipment has qualified operators, right from the start and make sure that the person in charge knows how to use the equipment better than anyone.
If you buy a new shirt unit, the same is true, only worse. With a shirt unit the learning curve can be steep, and a presser can easily get poorer productivity than what they were getting with the old equipment, rather than better. Ideally (I know that this is often impossible), the new unit sits alongside the old one while the manager spends a week or two getting very good at it. Then, and only then, the manager trains the shirt presser on the new shirt unit. Since this is often out of the question, utilizing a weekend to learn the unit may be the only alternative. What is not an alternative is throwing shirt pressers that have used an Ajax Classic since gasoline cost less than a dollar a gallon and throwing them on a new-fangled blown-sleeve unit and expecting them to love it. They will hate the machine, they will hate you and they will hate their job. I base this last paragraph on a real-life experience. A manager, for whom I have a great deal of respect, was suddenly in a situation where all his shirt equipment was replaced and was now of the type that he had zero experience with. Previously, he was the Answer Man, then, overnight, he knew nothing. The pressers were thrown to the wolves and left to figure out the equipment for themselves. The manager was, consciously or unconsciously, too embarrassed to try to operate a new-fangled shirt presses himself for fear of looking like a fool to his employees and feeling like a fool himself. His solution? Retreat to his office and curl up like a cocktail shrimp with the hopes that the employees would “figure it out.” What, pray tell, would they figure out? How to work faster so that they could work fewer hours and get paid less? Press a better shirt so that their absent, tucked-away-in-his-office manager would not even notice? The pressers went through the motions and filled in the time between weekends. To add insult to injury, it happens that the purchase of this equipment was made with the sole intention of saving $100,000 per year in labor and it never happened because the employees were never trained properly. The manager never learned the job.
And, if I somehow have failed to convince you that the manager must be trained, and trained first, consider this: We can presume that the manager is more likely to be a long-term employee than your average shirt presser. Yes, I know, you all have lifers in the plant, but generally speaking, the revolving door is in the press room. If you train the pressers, even if they are properly trained and do well, if and when they leave, who will train their replacement? This is the manager’s responsibility. By sheer repetition, the manager may have been a good supervisor when the new equipment was in place, but it is time to move on. The manager must be qualified to supervise, correct, criticize, commend, oversee, reprimand or retrain an employee and they can only do that if they know the job.
Next month, I will begin my coverage of the Clean Show in Atlanta. It has been a fantastic show. I have made it my responsibility to bring the show to you with movies of the shirt units that are available to you as well as new and exciting products for shirt launderers and drycleaners. This coverage will run from September through November, so stay tuned.