Growing lean practitioners

Growing lean practitioners

I have been involved in manufacturing for over 40 years and I believe career opportunities for the younger generation are now at an all-time high, not just in Australia, but across the western world.

There is a major skill shortage for qualified lean practitioners in both manufacturing and service industries. One man who has a mission of closing the gap is Ray Littlefield who arrived in Australia in 2007, establishing an Australian branch of ILS-USA.

Ray began his career as a Production Trainee at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky in 1997. He is a true expert in lean systems and industry-academic partnerships. Ray has led several lean transformation programs in vastly different industries, including manufacturing, food processing, healthcare, education and other service environments, engaging at all levels from front line team members to CEO’s. Today Ray is Managing Director of ILS Australia & Asia.

My own goal is to increase the number of qualified lean practitioners in the Hunter Region and across NSW. In this short article, I will focus on my passion, which is manufacturing.

I look at Bruce Hutton, one of the early qualified Lean Practitioners who has succeeded in turning a manufacturing plant in a small regional community destined for closure, into a thriving modern plant that is now internationally competitive.

The plant employs 150 people in 2017, the same number as in 2010, but has virtually doubled its productivity.

When I was employed as Learning and Development Manager, I asked Bruce to join the group I was putting together to participate in the Lean Practitioner Program. Bruce, a qualified fitter and turner, was reluctant to join the group of mainly engineers, believing the program might be beyond him. It only took a short time for Bruce to take a leadership role within the group.

Bruce believes that educating the workforce is the key to his team’s success and he has the most comprehensive apprentice-training program of any manufacturing plant of its size in Australia (15 apprentices). He took the same approach to educating the employees in the advantages of lean implementation. Respect for humanity was the driving force.

Training was the critical factor in the success of lean implementation according to Bruce. Few could argue that transformation to lean practices is a major attitude change by all employees. Respecting employees at all levels of the organisation encourages many suggestions for improvement.

Many manufacturing organisations have learned from their visits to Lithgow. This has spread the message to Newcastle and the Hunter.

The Morris Technology Group, now two years into a lean transformation journey, was the first to embark on their lean transformation.

The first Lean Practitioner Program conducted in Newcastle and sponsored by DSI was completed at the end of 2016. 28 students participated in the program. This was followed by a second program jointly sponsored by DSI and BIS. In total over 50 people participated in the two programs.

Tracy Diederichs, an Engineer from DSI, is the first female to become a qualified Lean Practitioner in the Hunter.

The likelihood of Australia’s manufacturing sector growing will depend on finding ways to increase productivity, improve international competitiveness and eliminate waste. Lean manufacturing has become a way for Australian companies to grow and be competitive.

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