The Wrong Industry
“Hey, Jacob. Jackson wants to talk to you in the office.”
I looked up from the hold ticket I was writing and saw my boss, Angela standing close by. I took her in at a glance, brightly colored top standing out against the grays and browns of the drab factory paint, bronze-colored curls resting beautifully on her shoulders. But most noticeable were the lines of concern creasing her forehead.
“What about?” I asked, my stomach tightening with nervousness.
“I’m not sure. I- I don’t think it’s good, though. I’m going in there with you.”
I looked up from the small hold cart littered with bad parts and looked out over the line. From my position I could see about twenty or so operators, my operators working diligently as their shiny and dull grey parts rode down the line. For the first time in almost a year I felt like I was losing it all.
I listened for a quick second to their chatter, the whirring of motors, the clanging of parts being loaded and the buzzing of machines doing work, taking it in.
“Alright, let’s see what it is then.”
I put my pen down and hoped I would return to write the card out as I walked with Angela towards red double doors. We pushed through these and mounted a flight of stairs with ringing ears. A short hallway later I let my hand hover over the knob for a moment before pushing a door open, stepping into a large room divided with blue half walls into six smaller spaces.
A small man sat at the farthest, buzzed head barely visible.
“Hey, Jacob, have a seat. Thank you, Angela.” Jackson said, popping his head over the furthest wall. I strode to the second space on the right stood, eye to eye with Jackson over the wall. Angela stood just to the side, deliberately not taking the hint to leave.
He gazed between the two of us with beady eyes and wrinkled his stiff mustache disapprovingly.
“I’d like to hear what you have to say, if that’s alright,” Angela said, leisurely taking a seat at one of the cubicles.
Jackson recovered quickly, his showman personality taking over, “That’s fine, I just wanted to figure some stuff out real quick before I headed out for the day.”
“Okay, what do you need?” I asked levelly.
Jackson knit his brows and folded his hands over the half wall, “I was informed that we had operators interacting with the HMI screen at the filling station. Do you know about that?”
I took a breath and answered, “Yes, I’ve actually been training my operators how to do things like interact with the HMI screens lately.”
“Alright,” he said, looking down for a beat, “Now that’s where we’re running into a problem. Operators aren’t allowed to interact with those screens.”
“I understand operators aren’t technically allowed, but that rule simply makes no sense to me,” I responded.
“There’s frequently a fault at the filling station for the master unit that we send around at the start of each shift, a problem I’ve documented and escalated to engineering and maintenance for the past eleven months. It has nothing to do with the master units actual quality check, it’s just a data communication error but we’ve been told we have to go down each time and get maintenance to look at it, just for them to reject the unit and do nothing at all we wouldn’t do.”
Jackson thought for a moment, “So, this has been a problem for eleven months?”
“Yes, it has,” I said.
“I’ll definitely bring that up in our morning meeting tomorrow,” he said, stooping to make a quick note. “Hopefully we can get that fixed but it still doesn’t change the fact we can’t have operators interact with the HMI.”
“Why can’t we?” I asked quickly.
Jackson paused for a moment, “It’s a rule that’s been put in place to protect our customers from any potential misbuilds making it out.”
“It’s a useless, broken rule, Jackson,” I said, temper flaring. “The reason that you believe they’re not capable is because no one else actually takes the time to train individuals how to do these things. This company doesn’t invest in it’s operators, hell, Jackson it didn’t even invest in me when I got this job. You hire people off the street and actually get a few good ones who stick around, then after all their hard work tell them they can’t hit a button on a screen. That’s why you can’t keep good operators Jackson, because who would stay and do a job like this, especially when they’re constantly snubbed and being treated as less than? These operators are just as capable to press two buttons on a screen as I am and there’s no reason to wait around for maintenance when they’re going to do the same thing. I’m not going to hold my operators back from learning something they’re capable of doing that’s only going to help us build more units.”
Jackson rebutted immediately, “It’s not just about building more units-”
“Ah!” I interjected, “Now that, my friend, is simply not true! My shift, second shift, has repeatedly met our efficiency targets for the past several months, we’ve reached over 1,000 units produced sixteen times since I’ve become team lead and the other two shifts combined have only done it eight times. We hold two production records and when compared against the other two we outperform them over seventy percent of the time. Yet, when the time comes for us to get weeks off, third shift is the only one receiving it. For the past four weeks off we’ve received, they’ve gotten every one and why is that?”
Jackson opened his mouth but I cut him off, “I already know you’re going to talk about the teams inexperience and lack of stable leadership. That’s a very poor excuse. If you remember correctly, I was trained for three days with no prior leadership experience and given twenty six operators to watch over for eight hours. I had no back up, no support and I had to figure it out on my own, which I did. You don’t get better at your job by not working for four weeks, Jackson. You can’t give that excuse anymore because it makes no sense. It’s simply because they’re the worst performing shift and we make better numbers than they do.”
I was fuming and realized I’d let myself run on. Jackson was gazing at me in surprise but in contrast appeared calm.
“That doesn’t change the fact operators can’t interact with the HMI panels. I’m willing to overlook everything else that has happened here if you’ll just tell me that moving forward, they won’t be doing it.”
I shook my head, “Okay, Jackson let me break something down for you. This week alone we’ve made 767, 936, 1,043, and 1,104 units. First shift, while third shifts been off all week mind, has produced in total 600 units less than we have over that four day span with similar problems including downtime. They’re simply not working as hard, but today, Friday, when we come in, they were sent home early because of schedule reductions and you decided to split the remaining parts equally. You decided to split the parts remaining equally, despite us making 600 more units this week! Because we’re working that much harder!” I said, my voice fully raised. “That’s not fair! You made that decision so you could save money in labor costs since we’re outpacing their production already and we just started up a little while ago. So, in this situation, if that master faults I am having my operator reject it every single time.”
Jackson opened his mouth and held up a finger, “Before you interrupt me, I’d like to remind you with Angela as my witness, I have personally informed you of the master fault three times! Three times over eleven months and here you are acting as though it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it. I will not have my high performing line slowed down when we’re trying to make parts so we can leave early after being treated unfairly. Oh, and Jackson, if you don’t like getting these incredible numbers on a consistent basis, I suggest you find another team lead who’s capable, but more importantly WILLING to put up with the incredible amount of bullshit that I do. I don’t have a problem finding another job where I actually respect the management and their decisions.”
He was stunned to say the least. No one talked to Jackson like that, ever. Not even those who left their jobs in a huff, throwing things in a box with a certain authority and liberation.
But I just did.
And he was stunned.
“Now,” I said, taking a deep breath. Heat had risen in my face and I knew it must be bright red.
“Now,” I repeated, “I am going to lead my team, the way I see fit and continue to do an exemplary job. If you would consider changing your own perceptions on our quality versus production mantra then kindly let me know. I hope to see it reflected in your actions.”
I strode out, leaving both Angela and Jackson behind. In the back of my mind, I hoped I would be fired, if only so that I didn’t have to come back to this hell hole of a plant on Monday and face the consequences of my rant.