Machine Design
September 5, 2013 Letters

September 5, 2013 Letters

Safer fracking, better employers

An experienced engineer questions the complaints of high-tech companies that can’t find qualified employees. He wonders whatever happened to on-the-job training. And several other readers worry about fracking and its affect on water supplies. They want energy companies to use cleaner methods of extract resources, methods that would also preserve our other vital resources.


Lean can sometimes be too mean

A statement in a recent editorial caught my eye (“Behind the Corporate-Strategy Facade,” May 22).It read: “Companies that zealously ‘reengineered’ their processes often found they were left with staffs so lean that the absence of one of two workers jeopardized the output of the whole operation.”

In the Dark Ages of manufacturing, when the abacus was being retired in favor of the two-bit electronic “super” computer, I had the fortune to be part of a management seminar. The lecturer made at least one important point: It is always beneficial to operate your department/facility with one more employee than what is considered the bare minimum. It’s critical for maintaining output schedules. The lecturer extended this concept to include office personnel as well as design/production staff. After introducing this statement, he set out explaining many of the reasons why this is an important concept in modern business.

It seems that now we are immersed in the Age of Enlightenment vis-a-vis real supercomputers, that notion has been discarded. However, despite the almost infinite advances in computing, the human being is still the “fly in the ointment.”

Robert Herold


Many years ago, I coined an acronym, MBMA (management by magazine article), but I never knew the exact magazine. Now I know it was the HBR.

Jim Ream


Where are the qualified grads?

I had to chuckle at the opinions of Mr. Kirk McDonald (“Coding Nightmares,” June 6) who claims he cannot find qualified programmers. His complaints are on the lips of virtually every technology leader in the U. S. The truth of the matter is that Mr. McDonald’s problem is largely self-inflicted. He may not remember it, but the actions of his company and thousands of others bred this problem.

In a quest for greater profit and quarterly growth figures, companies outsourced the exact sort of work Mr. McDonald can’t seem to find qualified people to do. He, and others like him, helped kill off the quality practitioners and now that he needs them, they’ve retrained themselves and found other work, hopefully something that can’t be outsourced at the whim of the CFO. As an aside, these quality practitioners are exactly the sort of people companies need to help train the younger generation of knowledge workers.

It’s also likely that the job description Mr. McDonald is using to qualify job applicants is so overspecified that Steve Jobs on his best day couldn’t meet the requirements. I’ve seen position requirements that wanted 10 years of Java experience back when Java was less than 5-years old. Today, resumes are used not to find a good candidate, but to eliminate as many as you can to get the list down to a manageable size. The idea of hiring the best person and then teaching them in your system seems to be lost on everyone but the NFL and a few of us older guys.

It doesn’t surprise me that college graduates lack the sort of coding skills Mr. McDonald wants. He wants the sort of skills that take years to develop. And I bet he’s neither willing to pay skilled practitioners a reasonable wage or to invest in employees to help them develop those skills.

Additionally, why would any college student invest in STEM skills when those are exactly the sort of skills that can be outsourced? It’s been a long time since I recommended that anyone consider engineering as a career. Today I recommend pharmaceuticals and medical practice. It’s a lot harder to outsource a nurse.

Duane Elms


Danger: Fracking ahead

I read the editorial on fracking (“Two Vital Resources: Water and Natural Gas,” June 6) and it was very encouraging to know that are several ways to conserve the water being used. Clearly the waterless process which fracks with liquid petroleum gas (propane) is the best process. As with all industrial processes, especially on the scale of fracking, if it is not done with attention to detail, the environment can suffer significant damage. We must always use our resources wisely.

I am hopeful we will also be wise enough to continue conserving energy, developing renewable energy sources and driving to the ultimate goal of nuclear fusion.

John Swank

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