Companies Seek Lean, Six Sigma Talent to Plot Their Course After Recession

Susan Hall

For the seventh year, The Avery Point Group recently took a large chunk of Internet job postings, looking for demand for Lean and Six Sigma talent. It's a one-day slice of postings from the big job boards and found 6,700 postings seeking this type of talent, compared with 3,500 mentions last year, an increase of 90 percent.


In an interview, Tim Noble, managing principal and partner of the executive search firm, which specializes in Lean and Six Sigma talent, called it a "directional indicator" of demand in the market. So simply, demand is up.


Noble's explanation, however, is tied to companies' return to growth after the recession. He told me:

There are a couple of drivers behind that, I think. One is that there's a lot of pent-up demand in the marketplace for talent. Folks were holding off on hiring. The other thing is that as companies start to recover, their volume comes back. During the recession, companies took significant head-count reductions. They took a lot of actions to pare back their operating costs. They took a lot of actions to strip out inventory to free up cash. As the economy recovers, they don't want to add back one-for-one on the head count as the volume comes back. They don't want to add back one-for-one on inventory or the operating costs. They're looking to Lean and Six Sigma as an enabler to allow them to gain leverage out of this volume as it comes back.

Clearly companies are rethinking growth and how to deal with it. The just-in-time aspects of lean manufacturing, though, can create issues, as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan have shown. The Wall Street Journal quotes Ron DeFeo CEO of heavy-equipment maker Terex, saying:

Just-in-time makes sense, but it's vulnerable to disruptions, so what we're seeing now is the theoretical being adapted to meet the world of the practical.

Noble told me these aren't just executive jobs, but can be functional roles such as a supply chain manager when companies have a Lean or Six Sigma culture.


In the dark days of the recession, my colleague Ann All wrote that process-improvement efforts might make more sense once budgets bounce back, because they tend to be lengthy and resource-intensive. Noble said that demand for Lean talent has eclipsed that of Six Sigma in the job postings, possibly because there are more Six Sigma folks out there, but also because Lean is considered a more expedient way to go.

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