4.30.2008

Lean Jobs: Still Many Good Opportunities

Problems in the economy aren’t having much of an impact on demand for people with lean expertise. And there are good opportunities for such people in a number of industries.

That is what I am told by Ted Stiles, director of executive search for
Stiles Associates, a headhunting firm specializing in lean jobs.

In my
last post, I discussed how Ted sees strong demand for lean specialists in healthcare. (At Productivity Press, we agree that interest in lean is strong in healthcare, which is why we now offer a growing line of books for that market.)

But healthcare is not the only field with lean opportunities. Manufacturing is still the primary market for lean job candidates. Ted said manufacturing will account for probably 75 percent of all searches done by his firm this year (though that is down significantly from five years ago, when virtually all of the searches were in manufacturing).

And while lean used to be the focus primarily in discrete manufacturing, there has been a lot of growth in lean demand in process manufacturing, Ted says, in a variety of industries: pharmaceutical, oil, metals, food and beverage.

Part of the reason for that, he adds, is that process manufacturers are not following discrete manufacturers in a rush to move to other countries. “The plants (of process manufacturers) tend to be enormous,” he explains. “They represent a great deal of capital investment. They tend to run 24/7. It’s not the kind of thing you can shut down and move overseas.”

Another big trend, Ted says, is that private equity firms – some of which tend to acquire manufacturers – like to hire lean experts to help turn around the acquired company, and in some cases to help with the due diligence before the company is purchased. (Adam Zak, another lean headhunter, also mentioned this trend
when I spoke with him last year.)

And for the job candidate, Ted notes, working for a private equity firm can be a good opportunity because the compensation may include some equity in the acquired firm.

Ted also sees growing demand for lean specialists in service industries.

Stiles Associates saw “a bit of a slowdown” in job searches in the first quarter of this year, he says, but is now seeing improvement. “Overall, we’re not forecasting a downward trend on our total search load. It will probably be flat to last year,” he comments.

He adds, “In downtimes, we end up coming through just fine. More companies realize margins are getting thin, sales are down. They say, ‘we have to figure out some way to survive.’ It is pretty common for our phone to ring with people saying, ‘we’ve thought about this (lean) for a while. We want to dig into it fast.”

And for job-seekers, he advises, “It’s in market conditions like this that lean programs are really tested, and the commitment to programs is tested. If you are with an organization that is cutting back, that may be a pretty good indicator of their commitment (to lean). The ones that ramp up have kind of a refreshed and new appreciation for just how impactful a well-executed lean program can be. Now is the time to shine if you’re in a good program.”

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