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)