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High school, the time for green belts

By Michael Hughes
IIE managing editor

Much of industrial engineering’s image problem comes from a lack of knowledge. If people know anything about the profession at all, they probably think IEs work in the dank, dark, dirty factories of yore.

I’m an example. Prior to starting at IIE in 2009, I couldn’t have crafted one sentence about industrial engineering.

NavicentHealth and Mount De Sales Academy in Macon, Georgia, are tackling that lack of knowledge by training high school seniors as lean green belts for healthcare. Ten earned their certificates this spring, and the private Catholic school already has more applicants for next year’s program than it knows what to do with.

That’s a far cry from the students’ initial reaction, Mary Pat Dadisman, the school’s assistant head of school and dean of students, told me. The students wanted to play “doctors and nurses” and looked askance at process improvement. But once they started shadowing black belts and following projects at Georgia’s second largest hospital system, they changed their tune.

“They’re coming back telling me all the time not just what they did that particular day but about the lean projects that they’re becoming part of, and they’re getting to see the results of the projects or the work that’s in progress,” she said. “They are definitely focused on that aspect of it now. They’ve come full circle.”

NavicentHealth is an IIE qualified training provider. Chief quality officer Stephen Mayfield, who used to be an IIE employee, said the qualified training program offers at least three major benefits.

It extends IIE’s knowledge and membership, putting tools in the hands of people who are in the midst of or, in the case of the Mount de Sales students, starting to think about their careers. And it helps organizations develop cultures of robust process improvement – NavicentHealth already has graduated 420 lean green belts for healthcare and 15 black belts.

And last, but definitely not least, it gets the next generation excited about careers in industrial engineering. Although it’s a small academy, Mount de Sales has had four National Merit Award winners, and the 10 seniors in the program – Madison Baima, Runyu Cai, Anna Garcia, Catherine Gumarin, Maria Maiorana, Emily McKowen, Michaela Murphy, Ashton Pearson, Laura Smoak and Morgan Toomer – have to be some of the youngest lean green belts for healthcare certified by IIE, Mayfield said.

The idea came from Ninfa Saunders, president and CEO of Navicent Health. A black belt herself, Saunders awarded the certificates during a ceremony held at the academy.

“As pioneers of this program, people know you are a green belt by your work, how you use critical thinking skills, by the decisions that you make, and how you navigate the things you do every day,” she told the students.

Click here for more on Mount de Sales Academy students and their green belt training in the Front Line section in May’s Industrial Engineer magazine.

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ESTIEM Vision Xanthi “Food Production”

Dear Readers,

The topic of the Vision project in 2014/2015 was “Food from soil to shelf”. One of those Vision events was organized by LG Xanthi at the end of March 2015. Being related to the subtopic “Food production” the event gathered 18 participants from 6 different local groups to improve their knowledge in this topic.

The arrival day of the event included a dinner, where we played some get-to-know games, followed by a nice welcome party in a club.

The next day started with a welcoming session with presentations about Vision in general and the University of Thessaloniki. Subsequently we had an interesting lecture about agricultural techniques and food traceability systems. After a small coffee break we were introduced in harvesting stage detection systems and how the quality of soil is identified. When we finished the lunch we continued with the LPI Greek language session, followed by a funny acting game, using the Greek language. Then a pig production as well as a wine company provided us presentations with their production procedures and current status in Greece. To give the day a calm ending we had a short walk in the old town, followed by bowling.

On the following day we started with a lecture about microbiology. Afterwards we had one hour to go through the bazar of Xanthi which takes place every Saturday. After having typical Greek Moussaka for lunch we continued with a lecture about functional foods which affect for example your mood or concentration. Then we had a nice walk along the path of life which ended with an awesome waterfall. During the night we had the possibility to taste Ouzo and Tsipouro in a Greek tavern.

The next day was supposed to be a day full of activities. We went by bus to the Nestos river where the sun was waiting and an activity camp was located. Starting with climbing and flying fox, guided by the experienced owners of the camp, we had the chance to do rafting in the river. After providing us an introduction and rafting and telling us the important rules, we had three exciting and exhausting hours of rafting. Then we had some time to do archery or just to relax. Back in the center of Xanthi we had Greek Souvlaki followed by the international night. We had the chance to taste food and drinks from Italy, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Greece.

Our fourth morning in Xanthi started with a company visit at a chocolate factory which is producing typical Greek delights and handmade cakes for special occasions. It was interesting to get an overview over their products and their production. At the end we received a handmade ESTIEM cake. After lunch we had a workshop about the theory of inventive problem solving, called TRIZ. We learned an alternative way to solve problems by using solutions for already solved problems. Divided in groups, we had the chance to solve a problem on our own and to present it afterwards. Then we visited the “House of Shadow” which was related to the SERI initiative. The owner of the house crafts sculptures out of recycled materials. By putting the sculptures in the right angle in the light, awesome shadows are visible on the walls. The final of the day provided a nice gala dinner with perfect food and drinks.

At the last day we visited a milk company, which produced different kinds of milk and cheese. We had the chance to get insights in their production and their range of products. Furthermore we were allowed to taste a chocolate flavored milk. After the lunch we were divided in groups to solve a well prepared Treasure Game which also gave us the possibility to explore the city. A joint “The Voice Party” with EESTEC, where everyone could show their karaoke skills, was a nice conclusion of the event.

All in All it was an exciting, funny and informative week in the beautiful city of Xanthi. The event was perfectly organised by the Local Group and I think I can speak on behalf of all participants that that we will never forget that week.


Johannes Dittler

LG Ilmenau

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Where Did All The Workers Go?

I watched a TED talk by Rainer Strack on the upcoming global employment crisis the speaker forecast for 2030. Looking fifteen years ahead, the demographics for the workforce in the top 20 nations of the world is already set, since those in the projection already exist. The projections of a workforce too small to meet the needs of the largest economies in the world seems unrealistic when we have over 5% unemployment and 8% of adults having dropped out of the workforce. Yet it is completely possible, based upon the speaker’s data and my own experience.

I witnessed the introduction of PTC’s Windchill simplifying and automating configuration management, document reviews and parts list management. While a program used to each have their own configuration manager, now one manager could run two or more programs. A few retired, while others were laid off. Improved IT automation via Microsoft’s server upgrades from 2003 to 2008 or 2010 meant you no longer had to change the passwords on several hundred servers manually – it could be done through a single tool interface. Add in real time IT management tools and proactive security measures, and the number of IT gurus needed goes down unless they can be redeployed to work on a backlog of projects. Fortunately or unfortunately, constantly changing hackers and endlessly evolving hardware means that there is fairly good job security in IT if you can stay on the front lines. For engineers who design products, there is work as long as you can make a better product, whether with less material, fewer parts, new features or less money.

Science is likewise relatively safe; the human genome project may be mostly completed, but proteomics, the study of how the proteins those genes produce and how they interact, will take decades to decode. Add in the genetic sequencing of thousands of other species, and science will continue to demand the same skill sets as today though the lab equipment and software will change.

What about those outside of the STEM skill sets? Medical, if seen as an extension of science, will never go away – you simply need to keep up with the latest advanced and treatments.

Two major problems were posed by Rainer Strack: the relative lack of workers of 15 to 65 and skill mismatch.

The talk identified several key solutions to the problem, ranging from immigration to job training to automation.


As an industrial engineer, I can see the rush to automation occurring, as it already occurs as labor prices rise. Close the border to illegal immigrants, and we’ll see the farmers who rely on migrant laborers automate the way corn and wheat farmers already rely on tractors and combines. China is already seeing a decline in manufacturing employment as a percentage of the workforce as they automate factories to replace masses of human beings. Quality of production goes up, while you decrease the need to shut down for human needs. The TED talk did bring up how the rise of automation may decrease the labor shortage while exacerbating the skill mismatch.

Reducing the need for bodies to do basic assembly, something someone with an 8th grade education could do, raises demand for engineers, mechanics and other skilled or college educated labor.

In short, automation reduces the body count in the short term but the skills mismatch in the long term. However, I expect automation to continue as a solution to the potential future labor crisis. In fact, automation will likely continue even if unemployment were to spike again, because of the overall cost savings automation tends to yield unless the work is inferior to that done by a person or humans refuse to accept machines doing the work.

Skills Mismatch

Skills mismatch is a term for the gap between the skills employers need and the skills potential employees have. It is exemplified with the jokes about liberal arts majors asking, “Would you like fries with that?” Simply earning a college degree does not qualify one for an office job, especially as automation moves into the back office.

But what about those with lower level skill sets? What do we do to employ those whose jobs are most easily automated on the assembly line? Despite the hype, not everyone is suited to college level work; in fact, only around half the workforce has the intellectual capacity to complete a four year degree of intellectual rigor. Much of the current trillion dollar student loan crisis is due to the push to get everyone a degree, though many cannot finish it, or to get a degree, any degree, regardless of the demand for the skill set.

A partial solution to the skill mismatch has already been proposed by Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame. Bring back the skilled trades. Don’t send the average and below average kids to get useless liberal arts and ethnic studies degrees, often accruing thousands of dollars in debt you cannot discharge in bankruptcy. Instead, train them to be mechanics, CNC programmers, plumbers, electricians, machinists, welders, tool and die cast workers, CNC operators, computer hardware assemblers and so forth. This work is too complex to be automated to machines. And these jobs are too advanced to be done by someone walking in off the street. Bringing back the respect for the skilled trades and sending kids who would flunk out of college to a year of trade school to learn these jobs would go far to solving the skills mismatch.

What should be done for those whose knowledge work was readily automated, like the legal work that may be mostly done by AI in two or three decades? That’s a more difficult question to answer, and I won’t tackle it here.

Bringing People In Versus Outsourcing the Work

One of the solutions Ranier Strack identified to the lack of workers was immigration of those in the necessary age range. However, the demographic challenges this poses are immense, from higher costs to educate their children to the local language to second generation immigrants identifying with the extreme elements of their historical roots to the detriment of society, whether it is supporting La Raza (the Race) in the U.S. or Muslim immigrants in Europe attracted to ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

A more realistic solution to the labor shortage is one we already see today – global outsourcing in all its various forms. If labor is truly in short supply, the labor rates will rise. If automation cannot offset the labor demands, wages will rise high enough to encourage those without useful skills to spend a few years acquiring them. Or employers can move the assembly work, recycling and other tasks to lower cost locales. Textile work has been doing this for years, migrating from lower cost locale to the next cheaper locale. While computer chip manufacturing and electronics assembly is more expensive, such off-shoring and re-shoring will continue if labor is truly too scarce in the developed world.

Back office outsourcing has taken off since 2000, supported by the ocean-crossing data cables built to support the internet revolution. Whether it takes the form of talking to IT tech support in India or a call center in the Philippines or an accountant working from home in a rural corner of the U.S., the internet is going to further drive the distribution of work from high cost areas to lower cost ones. While managing a distributed workforce is complex, it will offset the labor shortages in developed nations.

Growing the Workforce

A solution Ranier Strack touched upon but did not serious address was growing the workforce by raising the retirement age. Life expectancy has been growing steadily worldwide for decades, now nearly double what it was a century ago. We’ve decreased the ravages of old age to some extent, such as replacing knees with artificial joints, installing pace makers, treating diabetes and dementia and so forth; in the process, we’ve added years of productive life.

Let’s set aside the social challenges of helping three and four generations share the same workplace. As industrial engineers, the challenge is retrofitting existing workplaces with elements of universal design. Universal design refers to the architectural style that suits everyone’s body type, whether suffering from a disability or the debilities we associate with old age. Widening doorways, installing lighting that permits everyone to see well, easy to user computer interfaces even those with arthritis or limited hand motion can use, and a hundred other changes will make it easier for those in their 60s, 70s and 80s to contribute to the workforce. We would decrease the labor shortage forecast by making it easier for many to work longer in their current professions.

The solutions for helping everyone work longer can benefit everyone, not just the elderly. For example, the patient lifts now becoming standard in hospitals allow one nurse to move a heavy patient without straining her back. Older nurses can still move patients with equipment like patient lifts, while younger ones are less prone to injury or need to work in tandem to move very heavy patients. Tools that require less effort to torque or use are easier for older users to utilize while reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries among the young.

Computers used to require the equivalent to a PhD to run. Now kids can create games using simplified user interfaces, and someone with a little training and paying for the advanced functionality can publish games without coding to half a dozen platforms.

Industrial engineers and others involved in product design need to work to decrease the skill set required to use automation, so that we close the skill gap that will otherwise come with rising automation.


Just as mechanization allows 2% of Americans to work as farmers and feed the population and export food, automation in manufacturing and the service industries will more than offset the relative decline in the workforce due to an aging population. This will aggravate the skills shortage, but this is not an insurmountable problem because the skilled labor work automation doesn’t replace doesn’t require four more years in school to learn if we work to make it simpler, as well as faster and cheaper to use.

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ESTIEM Vision Trondheim – “From fish to fork”

Dear readers,
The day of my trip to Trondheim didn’t start so good. My flight to Amsterdam was cancelled and that meant that I would lose my connection flight to Norway. At some point, I thought that I was not going to make it to this event. Luckily I was reallocated and I was able to reach the Nordic country on the same day. Whenever I got off the plane and my luggage was with me, I checked my phone, and… BAM! Eduroam in the airport. I only took some steps in Norway and I already liked the country. Once I got to the city, I met with some of the organisers. They were super excited and eager to make this event the best of our lives. The following day the event started. It was a get to know each other day. Pretty relaxed day. We had to save energy for what came next. This event had a different approach to the ones I had attended before. It was divided in two parts: the academic part in the first half, and the social part on the second.
On the very first day, we visited SINTEF, one of the leading companies in technology solutions for the fish farming industries, apart from other areas of expertise. I was totally shocked by the relaxed working atmosphere and professionalism that those people had. The workers of SINTEF really believe in that what they do is good for the world and they enjoy doing it. This made me feel that a sustainable future for the World is feasible, and we have to work on it.
The second day was full of lectures. It was quite intense and tiring, but really eye-opening. We found out that this industry is not perfect, they are facing some important issues, but they are trying their best in order to solve it. To finalize the day, we learnt more about the country by watching one film Norwegian.
On the third day, we had the most interesting trip of the event. After all the lectures that we received and the company visit, we visited a real fish farm, in the beautiful island of Hintra. Not only was the trip in the boat fun, both to Hintra and the fish farm itself, but also it was simply awesome to be able to see what we had been talking about in the previous days with our own eyes. It was the best possible ending for the academic part of the event.
After the trip to Hintra, the social part of the event started. We went deep into the Norwegian culture with a city tour, a trip to the nature to enjoy the snow and an Apartment Rally, between other activities. After getting to know the organisers, I definitely have a different picture of the Norwegian people. These people are kind, smart, immune to the coldness and, as proper students, they know how to have fun.To summarize, I take back home a new field of knowledge to work on, which is really promising for the future of the Earth, and the fact that I was able to meet such great people and discover such a gorgeous country.
Javier Casco, LG Madrid