Using America's human resources better
In assessing our current economic dilemma, there is a vague understanding that much of America's competitive slippage results from poor utilization of our human resources. Quality-of-work-life programs, which have been established in many industries all across this country, are designed to deal with this fundamental problem. They are founded on the notion that workers should be more involved in organizing their tasks and that teamwork between managers and direct labor will solve many problems.Skip to next paragraph
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Ever since I first encountered this concept as the convener of an area labor-management committee in Jamestown, N.Y., I have been impressed with its simplicity and success. From major divisions of General Motors to small factories in my hometown, I have learned of significant breakthroughs in productivity and job satisfaction. Both in unionized industries and unorganized enterprises, these programs have produced positive results.
A couple of years ago I chaired six days of hearings by a House Science and Technology subcommittee on the human factors affecting innovation and productivity. We had witnesses from all over the world: academics, executives, workers, scientists, and others.
Several things became very clear from almost all of the witnesses. We are introducing new technology without adequately assessing the effect on workers' attitudes or performance. We are not keeping up with our competitors - the very best advice came from witnesses from Japan and Norway. Where we do adopt a teamwork approach, here and abroad, phenomenal results can be achieved. And, while some of the technological factors can be very complex, most of the organizational solutions are exceedingly simple.
I have learned about quality-of-work-life and similar programs not only in the halls of Congress but in the workplaces themselves. At a Cummins plant just outside of Jamestown, workers without direct supervision are building a new truck engine in teams rather than on an assembly line basis. The workers are paid according to their skills, essentially manage themselves, and call in company engineers and others essentially as consultants. It is obvious even to someone like me, who certainly never lost his amateur status as an engineer, that these are very productive and satisfied workers.
Similar projects are going on in a great variety of workplaces with similar results. Sometimes they are assisted by third parties - usually academics - or by goverment grants. Sometimes labor and management have jointly sponsored such an undertaking. And sometimes management itself initiates the participative method.
All of the studies and empirical data suggest that further development of workplace cooperation would pay significant dividends which could be shared by workers, managers, investors, and society. A recent survey conducted for the US Chamber of Commerce showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans feel they could work more effectively and would like to do so. Pollster Daniel Yankelovich also finds that, while there is no deterioration of the work ethic, many jobholders are holding back effort from their jobs, giving less than they are capable of giving, and less than they are in principle willing to give.
While collaboration is taking place between workers and managers at the job site, I believe that we must also involve business, labor, government, and the public in a national effort to develop an industrial strategy to make sure that the US doesn't lose its basic and emerging industrial jobs altogether. This type of policy collaboration is distinct from workplace projects but just as important.
We not only will lose our steel and auto industries if we fail to take action , but our computer and airplane industries will be threatened as well. We simply cannot sit back and ignore the structural changes which are occurring in our industrial economy. We must begin by getting a consensus on the facts as to our competitive position and then develop a common strategy to achieve our overall national goals. We cannot afford the adversarial pitfalls of the past.
Together with three other House colleagues, Dave Bonior of Michigan, Dick Gephardt of Missouri, and Tim Wirth of Colorado, I have recently introduced a National Industrial Strategy Act designed to achieve these goals. We propose the creation of an Economic Cooperation Council, an independent body with equal representation from business, labor, government, and the public to develop credible information and recommend a strategy to revitalize our ailing industry.
We also propose a National Industrial Development Bank which would provide needed capital to carry out worthwhile projects in which all the parties are willing to cooperate to achieve long-term success. We allocate an equal amount of the funds for loans and guarantees of this bank to our basic or linkage industries and to emerging industries utilizing new technologies. If necessary, regional development banks could be set up to serve the needs of small business.
This legislation is not perfect. A series of hearings of several House committees this year will probably provide some additional insights. We do believe, however, that the concepts are ''state of the art'' industrial policy. We think that these concepts will provide a framework for discussion which will eventually adopt an overall national industrial strategy that can be implemented by a series of basic changes in trade policy, capital investment incentives, and regulations, as well as in research and development.
Cooperation to develop a national strategy and cooperation at the workplace are definitely distinguishable. In my judgment, both are important.
If we do either one, it will mean more jobs, better jobs, and higher standards of living.
If we do both, I believe that this commitment will result in a historic turning point for America.