Why Successful Apparel Manufacturers Should Create “Good Jobs”

The Good Jobs Strategy by Zeynep TonA few years ago, I wrote a blog post on the concepts in Zeynep Ton’s insightful book, “The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits.” Here’s an updated version with links to more meaty info.

Frequently, the expenses associated with hiring in the United States (a fair wage, predictable hours, a respectful workplace) are given as reasons not to attempt apparel manufacturing in the U.S. How can we change this mentality?

Read, internalize, then apply “The Good Jobs Strategy.” Ton’s research and conclusions are sound.

In “The Good Jobs Strategy”, Ton details methods for becoming a company that uses a “virtuous” cycle instead of a “vicious” cycle as the heart of a business. As a graduate of the Sloan School of Management, and an adjunct associate professor in the Operations Management group at MIT Sloan School of Management, Ton researched companies with successful methods honed to perfection such as Trader Joe’s, and Costco.

She breaks down the virtuous strategy into four “operational choices,” proving that these “allow (industries) to deliver value to employees, customers and investors all at the same time.” Although her book primarily uses retail businesses as examples, these methods could easily be adapted to manufacturing. They are:

1. “offer less”

2. “standardize and empower”

3. “cross-train”

4. “operate with slack”

These ethical employment methods constitute a firm foundation for achieving the kind of balance necessary to enable U.S. apparel manufacturers to be competitive (keeping costs down) while still respecting their employees. Basically, these strategies can be summed up in apparel manufacturing terms as follows;

1. Concentrate on fewer, higher quality products, a practice that has been in place in the apparel industry for many years. Obviously, t-shirts which wholesale at two dollars or less are not the products we are discussing.

2. Standardize work requirements/tasks on all levels so that workers can have the freedom to work more efficiently thereby motivating attention to quality outcomes and allowing time to recognize and act on needed improvements. This does not have to mean assembly line manufacturing.

3. Train workers in more than one task to reduce fluctuations in workloads. This method is already in place at lean manufacturing firms where pods are employed instead of the traditional assembly line configuration. However, “more than one task” could include a variety of tasks outside the assembly area.

4.. Have more workers on hand instead of fewer. This seems counterproductive—maintaining a steady quantity of labor when there seems to not be enough work to go around. However, if workers are cross trained, possibly in other lines of work, they can be employed full time on regular schedules so that when more production work arrives, they can move back to an assembly process to complete the new project on time.

Here’s an article from The Harvard Business Review of November 2017 which restates and further expands these concepts as they can be applied. If you need further convincing, visit the Good Jobs Institute web page on why employing your workers in good jobs matters. You can also view Ton’s TEDx talk here.

You can contact Zeynep Ton at: @zeynepton on Twitter or www.zeynepton.com

Next week, I’ll explore how I have applied Ton’s concepts in my own business as a sewing contractor and how we can look at employees as assets instead of expenses.

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