The most significant change in the last 35 years

There have been innumerable changes over the past 35 years. So much so that it would be difficult to agree on what has been the most significant change.

Certainly, technology would be right up there at the top of the list. So would computers and mobile communications.

The growth of more highly educated women entering the maintenance field would be another of the top contenders, as would the ever-constant and growing pressure to improve performance and lower operating costs.

It is my contention the biggest change of the last 35 years happened in the last five to 10 years. That change is a simple word that has wide consequences. That word is “access.”

Availability of Technology

In 1979, the Western World – meaning North America and Europe – were the only ones with access to sophisticated technology. Some might argue that Japan and Australia should be included, though.

At that time, this technology was available to only a microscopic subset of the employees of even the most seasoned Western companies.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, you would not see too much advanced technology in the hands of U.S. or Canadian maintenance managers, and certainly not their maintenance manager counterparts in countries like Ghana, Malaysia, Vietnam, Nigeria and Singapore.

But now, technological tools and the access to the data and information that they allow, are everywhere. Seldom do you see anyone without a laptop, mobile device or cell phone these days.

A Cause for Worry

This concerns me and it should worry you as well. Why? Because we no longer have the advantage of access to sophisticated technology and all the benefits to business that it provides.

Consider the tradeoff we’ve had for the last 35 years. The tradeoff has been between low wages in the Third World and high productivity via sophisticated tools and technology in the First World.

It would be safe to say that Canada, the U.S. and Europe cannot compete with China, Vietnam or Africa in terms of wage rates. There has been an out, until now.

In the First World, we pride ourselves on making up for that gap because we have traditionally had higher productivity and quality due to our adoption of the best tools of the time. Of course, we also have great people and a good work ethic.

But my observation from traveling the world as part of my work in the field of maintenance is that countries have good people too. The work ethic in some Asian and other countries is now way better than in the West.

More and more countries also have more access to sophisticated technology.

There is offsetting news, though. The proliferation of technology to boost productivity is also happening in the Western world. Maintenance managers, technicians and operations continue to add newer technology and tools.

However, I think the problem is that since we in the First World have been working with these things longer, we get fewer gains from each new evolution of technology change.

My hope is that as we harness the intelligence, drive and ingenuity of our people. Because underneath any technology is people.

What do you think is going to happen when billions of people with universal access to the latest technology working for millions of companies around the globe start to seriously compete with the West?

No Change

People have not changed too much over the past 35 years. They all still want a better life for themselves and their families.

Regardless of where they are based, companies have not changed much either. They want profit and growth.

Kind of sends a chill down your spine, doesn’t it?

Joel Levitt has trained more than 17,000 maintenance leaders from more than 3,000 organizations in 24 countries. He is the director of international projects for Life Cycle Engineering, an organization that provides consulting, engineering, applied technology and education solutions that deliver lasting results. Previously, he was president of Springfield Resources, a maintenance management consulting firm.