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Where Have the Foremen Gone?
Where Have the Foremen Gone?

Where Have the Foremen Gone?

flickr - Foreman (2) - 3226969208_fda2d00b0a_b Had a good conversation with a friend today.  As we talked, we seemed to circle around a common thought that has been all too apparent to many of us these days.  We have increasingly become a nation of specialists.  The foremen (and women) have largely been sent packing.

Sometimes the essence of this thought comes to mind, even though you might not do so tangibly.  For instance, my family has had a spat of medical ‘things’ going on.  10 years ago, most of our time was spent with our general practitioner.  You know…the one doctor you went to for just about ‘everything.’  Now, the GP seems to simply be a glorified gatekeeper.  Skin your knee, see the GP.  If you need a band-aid they’ll set you right up.  Otherwise, you’re off to for visits to any number of point-practitioners.  Ok, I exaggerate a bit…‘just’ a bit.

This problem is also very evident in our professional lives as well.  Today I met with a number of folks in a regional networking group.  The group reflects what is already known about this recession…most of those effected are mid/senior careerists.  What seems unspoken though, is these are also the folks known to a different generation as foremen.

I like the current Wikipedia description of a foreman (lightly tweaked): Foremen are best understood as Project Managers who have come to that position after experience as a … worker, as opposed to an individual who has followed a professional project management development program…”  of course, in today’s world, the experienced project manager, foreman, likely does have a college degree or two, as well as some form(s) of continuing education.

Many organizations seem to have been driven to remove many of these value-add contributors from their ranks.  The problem is that many of these organizations are now struggling with a lack of team members who know how to put it all together.  Volumes of knowledge have been lost and are hampering competitiveness.

Here’s just one example.  A friend of mine was an experienced electrical engineer.  She was extensively involved in field testing and calibration of new truck transmissions.  The stories of vehicle fires (try towing 5K lbs, at speed, up a steep multi-mile grade in an Arizona summer) and the like were often entertaining.

Then, came a major purge of senior staff, ostensibly to make room for younger staff to grow.  My friend was moved to a different role.  Much of the following year or two was spent listening to her struggles learning how to route oil dipstick tubes, having to navigate around the ‘air space’ reserved for other powertrain components.

Surely a past foreman could have rapidly resolved long-past learned methods of quickly routing oil dipstick tubes…letting my friend and everyone else get onto more important things.

I am interested in your thoughts.  Do you see the day of the foreman returning at some point?  Do you have examples of competitiveness hurt because of purged knowledge, lack of a facilitator?

(photo credit: U.S. Forest Service, 1933)


  1. From: Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach
    Being able to pull it all together has at least two dimensions — knowledge/experience AND personality type. It is no surprise that orgs. lose experience as older workers retire or are downsized out. Workers of any age who have personality types that focus on the big picture have the easiest capacity to (as you say)’pull it all together’.
    What does this mean for the organization? Consider both before you encourage older workers to leave and also look for ‘big picture’ ability when hiring anew.

    Great question that you pose.. thanks for this post!
    Kate Nasser

    1. JT

      Hello Kate,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. In recent years, I think the problem is more dramatic even than your comments suggest. It has not only been a loss through attrition, but organizations actively pushing them out in some cases.



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