ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - August 2001


Issue Highlight — Moveable Chairs
- Peter Block discusses a Milwaukee religious dispute and how the protestors' passion and commitment regarding space and structure should transcend into the workplace.

Teaming For Tomorrow
Broadening the Horizons of Total Quality Management

What do you remember from the days you spent in high school? Friday night football games, skipping class with friends and wishing for the weekend are a few memories that come into most people’s minds. Can you remember your class schedule? Biology, History, Geometry, English, Total Quality Management, Chemistry...what?

   That’s right, the principles of TQM have entered our schools. In some schools, basketball, baseball and soccer have taken a backseat to the teamwork involved in a yearlong project leading up to a national competition. Perhaps many young people would remember more than parties if introduced to this fresh perspective on quality. SkillsUSA-VICA hopes so. They are the organization behind the movement and the future catalyst behind the resurgence of American business.

As both domestic and global competition grow stronger, the struggle for any kind of competitive edge becomes tougher. Companies strive for the smartest, most talented and most sought after candidates. Coming out of college or graduate school, these men and women are seen as the future hope for success in their industries. What takes so long for people to learn? Why wait until college to teach these future leaders the skills they need to succeed? Why can’t we start with the youth and plant the seed of quality where it has time to grow and flourish? The face of American business may need to adapt in order to prosper in the new world.

   Some companies have heard this call and have begun to support organizations that choose to prepare young people for the world ahead of them. These organizations have fresh ideas that are resonating with the youth of America. It only makes sense—don’t force quality principles on people in their 20s when they’ve already been partially programmed to perform another way. If started early, the young people of today will grow into the business leaders we need for a brighter tomorrow. SkillsUSA-VICA has taken on this responsibility.

A Strong Start
SkillsUSA-VICA, formerly The Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA), has spent the past 36 years getting young Americans on board the quality movement. They accomplish this goal, in part, through their Total Quality Management (TQM) event. Starting only seven years ago, the TQM event is a collaboration of the work Ruben Coronado, TeleCheck Inc., and Kathleen McNally, SkillsUSA-VICA, started in Arizona. “We were doing the event in Arizona, but once it was over, there was no place else to go,” says Coronado. “Other competitions had national events for state level winners. We got this one started.”

   And what a great idea it was. Meeting in April every year in Kansas City, teams from schools all over the nation compete against one another and the standards laid out by the event leaders. “The teams work on a process improvement project with either their employers or educational institutions,” says Coronado. “They work on those projects beginning in September when school starts and continue throughout the year.”

   Projects range anywhere from attendance problems and policy issues within the school to process improvement on how the teachers can manage their classes better in order to better engage the students. Not only do they work on the processes, but they also make recommendations for solving the problems. “They gather the data, present it to their school administrators and employers and talk about the return on investment,” states Coronado. “Then they report their results when they come to Kansas City.”

   These submittal projects are also what get them into the national competition—and into the next leg of the competition. Once in Kansas City, the on-site competition begins. The teams are given a case study with 24 hours to work through it. The judges, who are quality professionals from local industries, analyze their submittal projects and offer feedback. The teams are then given insight as to what is being looked for in the case. Resource rooms are opened up with computers, printers and other supplies and the teams go to work.

   “Our companies donate the use of the technical equipment,” states Dale Kendrick, co-chairman of the TQM event. “We also bring in whoever furnishes the case study for the event to answer questions from the teams when they begin.”

   Once the on-site work is completed, the teams present to the judges while the invited case study contributors sit in and listen. The next day a large feedback session is held for the teams to discuss their projects, ideas and findings with the whole group. Not only do they receive the verbal responses, but written pointers as well—78 pages worth of survey results and recommendations. “It isn’t all feedback though,” says Coronado. “They also receive congratulations. It is quite a celebration.”

   After all of the discussions about the projects have ended, the awards are finally handed out. “Our awards are judged on a standard like most quality recognition programs—ISO 9000, Baldrige and others,” states Kendrick. “It cannot be a first, second, third in the country prize.” Last year, 13 teams made the national event and 11 medalled. This year, all eight who reached the finals medalled with five making the gold standard. “The students have a good feeling of making a difference,” says Coronado. “There is an aura of confidence and leadership that they get from the competition.”

The Real Prize
Although the honor of making the finals and achieving a high standard are important, the organizers and the teams themselves understand the true benefit. The huge value for business is that the students who go through this process know the jargon—process improvement, just-in-time, TQM, etc. Not only will they come up with opportunities for organizations, but they’ll also go one step further with suggestions for implementation. “Traditionally, people will tell you what’s wrong, but will give no ideas for improvement,” says Coronado. “These students have the skill set and ability to systematically think through a problem, come up with solutions and then put a fence around it with a timeline.”

   In Phoenix, Honeywell has a partnership with SkillsUSA-VICA and the student teams there work directly on manufacturing and engineering projects. A year ago, a team that presented on lead times and reducing the amount of scrap within the department saved the company $60,000 with their project. Not just the companies working directly with the teams benefit, but also the case providers. “Marriott implemented the results the teams came up with from their case study and saved both time and money by solving the problem In-House/On-Site,” says Kendrick.

   The companies don’t get all of the benefits from the program. The students gain from the experience as well. “One student, who was an engineering aide at Honeywell and a TQM team member, interviewed for enrollment at Emory-Riddle University, Prescott, Ariz.,” says Coronado. “The interviewer focused in on the training he had on his application and asked him some questions. He told us the interviewer was blown away and he was accepted.”

A Call to Arms
The SkillsUSA-VICA program is a refreshing reminder of what the young people in this country are capable of. It is a great forum to get involved with, that not only teaches them processes, but also leadership skills that make them employable in the business world. “We always hear the negative things that the youth of today are doing, but when you see these students out there making their presentations, it is amazing,” says Coronado. “I hear the judges say, ‘These are high school students? Some of my own six sigma black belts cannot present as good as these students.’”

   “Many of the students presenting have done it so much and do it so professionally that they know how to use the quality tools better than some seasoned veterans,” Kendrick agrees.

   A chain is as strong as its weakest link. Business is much the same. It is only as strong as its workforce, and that workforce is only as strong as the educational systems that support it. Due to the ever-changing marketplace, a new business culture has emerged which values continuous quality improvement through an unending commitment from every worker. “The more people we get involved in this—not just the students,” says Kendrick, “but those already in the business environment—I think we can help young people make better choices, especially if we expose them early.”

August 2001 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
Championing Change
Training The Trainee
Teaming For Tomorrow
Quality From The Ground Up
The Road To Quality

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Brief Cases

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