The Investor Class

Dec. 18, 2013
Personal stakes Statement of purpose Technology, finance encourage Skills challenge

The wind-down of another calendar year is filled with social, professional and even personal routines – many of which we welcome, some of which we dread. Here, we present the results of the FORGING Business Outlook Survey, in which we quantify the views and expectations of forging executives and operators concerning their industry, as a way to measure conditions in the market. For an essential manufacturing business like forging, we think it’s important to have a document of the decision-makers’ as a companion to so many other widely available market reviews.

But as I took my own turn through the numbers and examined the results, I realized that this is really personal information.

Without meaning to be glib, and not trying to overlay some cleverness that’s not found in the data, I mean that the information the survey respondents provided is evidence of their personal stakes in the success of their enterprises and the prospects for those businesses to thrive in the coming year. Forgers, and seemingly the responsible hard-workers across the manufacturing sector, are deeply invested in the work they do and the businesses where they do it.

A decade and more in the past, it was common for businesses to confer stock on workers as a way to sweeten the compensation and extend the sense of responsibility beyond the investor group. Now, the after-hours projects and take-home work represent a different sort of equity – the bits of themselves that executives, managers, and workers are willing to give up in order that a job will be done well, a customer will be satisfied, an order will be completed, or a new contract will be won.

There is seldom any discussion of this ‘transfer of ownership’ from the individual to the enterprise, because it’s all done without negotiation, or compensation. It’s an understanding. It’s a statement of purpose by dedicated individuals who see their success in the success of the enterprise.

In the pique of various social liberation movements 30 years ago, or more, a common barb from activists to less-engaged individuals was that “the personal is political.” Their meaning was that how any individual thought or behaved was subject to evaluation by their idealistic standards, for approval or condemnation.

Now, as the Outlook survey revealed to me, individuals willingly make “the personal” into the professional. 

Technology encourages this, as I have often opined. Communication devices that make it possible to receive and send huge volumes of information mean that no one can ever truly consider himself off-the-clock. Attention must be paid to decisions that must be resolved, and as the supplier and customer relationship expands around the world, the work shift never truly ends.

Finance makes it necessary too: businesses must be lean and hungry, which for the responsible employee means that he or she must be ready to pitch in without much back-up.   

This is one frame in which to view business conditions as the year ends. Success is based not so much on better technology but on better individuals designing the products, planning the process, and executing the decisions that bring success to forging operations, or any manufacturer.

But, looking forward, is it sustainable? Does any business or economic outlook suggest that more people will be available to function with as much insight and skill, and dedication, as those who have performed so well until now?

Indeed, the frequent reminder (including in our own Outlook survey results) that manufacturers need more skilled individuals seems now, in part at least, a recognition that manufacturers need not simply skilled workers, but smart workers willing to learn to do more than they are asked, with great attention to detail, and without much oversight or guidance, and no particular promise of a reward.

If that is the challenge to manufacturing then the outlook is uncertain, because what is needed are not skilled people — skills can be imparted, with the right planning effort — but rather, good people, people who invest more than they take away, and who supply more than they demand.