The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

This is an excerpt of a recent article (May 1999) from the Wall Street Journal that gives a little glimpse into the real world of American OJT.

Here's the text of the excerpt:

More, More, More

Rust- Belt Factory Lifts Productivity, and Staff Finds It's No Picnic

At Westinghouse Air Brake, Workers Trade Boredom For Tough Juggling Act

A Hard-Earnecl $1.50 Bonus

BY Timothy Aeppel Staff Reporter of the Wall Street Journal

CHICAGO - Every two minutes and 26 seconds, a shrill buzzer erupts over the heads of workers inside Westinghouse Air Brake Co.'s small factory here. It signals that the conveyor that carries parts dow the line is about to move.

"If you don't hustle, you surely won't keep~ up,''says Jeffrey Byrom.

Gliding between machines, the 35-yearold worker is a blur of motion, snapping up a finished part and plopping it on the conveyor as it lurches forward. If he doesn't feed the conveyor each time it moves, he risks hindering the next worker down the line.

Speed is just part of it. In traditional factories, workers often are assigned to run single machines; churning out huge batches of parts. But this is no traditional plant. Mr. Byrom's job requires him to juggle the operation of three different machines simultaneously while also checking r egularly for defects in finished items. The idea is to fill every moment of his 10-hour workday with only the most effective motion. The result is a hyper-productive workday.

By using the long-established Japanese approach known as kaizen, which means "continuous improvement," Westinghouse Air Brake tries to squeeze top performance out of aging plants like this one on the south side of Chicago. Thanks to a combination of radically streamlined processes and sheer speed, each worker on Mr. Byrom's line now produces 10 times more per day than in 1991, the company says.

"To be true to these ideas, you're really supposed to dictate everything," Mr. Golden says. In a strict kaizen plant, that would include everything from which knee a worker is allowed to kneel on while doing a particular task, to how far the worker should move his or her right arm to perform another job. "We're really somewhere in between the Japanese approach, where the process drives the people, and the traditional American system, where the people drive the system."

Either way, the system can be tough to learn. "After I was here three days, they showed up with a stopwatch; they timed me," Mr. Byrom says. "I didn't like that much."

Nor did he care for the way his trainer, Long Van Vu, a 47-year-old immigrant from Vietnam, would poke him in the forehead and say repeatedly, "You're not llstening; remember to do it the way I said."

The two men have come to respect each other now that Mr. Byrom has proved he can handle the work. Mr. Byrom credits his colleague with helping him learn how to work fast and pay attention. That is why he still refers to his co-worker as 'my master." "It's like a kung-fu thing," Mr. Byrom explains.

But even though he learned well, it eventually becomes clear the line won't meet its goal today. The line is 27 pieces short. There were too many little slowdowns, beginningwith the sluggish start in the morning.


(C) 1999 Dow Jones ~ Company, Inc. All Rights reserved.

MAY 18 1999


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