The Grasshopper and the Ant.

Posted: April 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’ll leave the reader to draw their own conclusions from the fable, but I was reminded of it Tuesday afternoon.  I’m doing a stint as a substitute mentor in the Gilmore Garage Works program, an after school “life-experience” thing for high school kids at the Gilmore Classic Car Museum.  My attendance has been rather hap-hazard due to my work  schedule, but I’m there when I can be. 

Tuesdays activity was a field trip to the Denso plant in Battle Creek.  I liked field trips when I was a kid, so I hopped on the bus and we headed out.  The first thing that struck me was that of the ten kids who were there, all but two of them drove themselves, so the bus passengers were myself, two other mentors, and two kids.  What?  I guess I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be sixteen and have a car.  It’s WAY cooler to drive than ride a bus, right?  The other mentors, all car guys of course, also drove themselves, proving that we are all really 16-year-old kids at heart.  Anyway, on with the story…

We were met by Steve Inman, a 20+ year Denso employee and team leader for the tour.  The first activity was a meeting with three temp employment agency reps who work on-site, in lieu of Denso having their own HR people.  They gave a presentation about what one needs to do to get a job these days.  As I’ve been out of the job market for 22+ years, it was interesting to hear what a blue-collar job applicant needs to know these days…  They DO have unfilled positions, so there are jobs, albeit temporary for as long as two years before being considered for full-time with benefits, out there.  No pensions, but employees are encouraged to develop their own 401K plans.

Not surprisingly, showing up on time and wearing clean pants and shirt tails tucked in was the top thing on the list.  No caps, no chew, no smokes in pockets, cell phones off, willing to share a little information about ones interests and experience, letter of reference and resume in hand.  The audience of 16-18 year old boys seemed less interested in the nuances of employment  application skills than the mentors, all retirement age or close, but I do remember that part of being 16…

Then out to the surprisingly clean plant floor.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but that marked the first and only time I’ve ever set foot in a factory, of any kind.  It was interesting to me because I like mechanical things, and am always interested in the little trinket things that make up the cars I love.  Simple, but complex underneath, with more thought and energy than one might think in producing a mundane component.

They have several production lines, each station attended by industrious people quickly doing their tasks.  How quickly the sub-assemblies pass thru the stations reminded me (being the age that I am) of Lucy and Ethyl in the chocolate factory, but I didn’t see one person stuff a underdash HVAC unit into their cheek to keep the pace!

One of the mentors commented that he noticed no one had a beverage or snack at their station.  No time to eat, drink or chat with ones co-worker when the next bit is rolling past on the belt.

Raw aluminum sheet on rolls and little plastic pellets start the journey at one end of the plant, and completed radiators, heater cores, HVAC units for cars from all the auto manufacturers in the world roll off their respective lines at the other.   It’s well-organized, clean, efficient, relatively quiet, has a not entirely unpleasant “mechanical” oily smell, and the company provides their associates (for some reason I find “associate” slightly irritating) with a gym, health benefits (once they pass the temp agency hurdle) and at least the dream of being able someday to afford one of the cars they’ve labored to make parts for someday. 

I’m not sure if any of the kids noticed the difference between the skilled tradesmen and the line workers (we didn’t see any managers or engineers), but I hope so.  The guys building and maintaining the amazingly complicated and massive injection molding dies for the plastic parts I thought should have made an impression.  I love the look, feel, and smell of the hardwood topped work tables, organized tool boxes, intricate (and totally foreign to me) instruments.  That such massive tools (the dies) are the result of such delicate and precise pieces, put together and maintained by people who DO have the luxury of time to talk to their peers, have a cup of coffee on the bench and freedom to exercise their minds and hands I hope made an impression. 

It may be good to be the frugal, industrious ant, but their jobs look pretty mindless and boring to this grasshopper.

  1. Brian says:

    After working at one of “those” factories for a tick over 30 years, you’ve summed it up well. After a stint of 63 days on an assembly line, then getting layed off, I took trades tests, interviewed, went to school to demonstrate I could/would do the work, retested, reinterviewed and aquired a number of points to establish myself in a pecking order. After being rehired onto the sam assembly line and lasting 90 + days my number came up and I became an apprentice toolmaker. Good hitch for the remainder of my time there. Good living not without disadvantages but I think it as worth the time invested. I coulldn’t imagine 30 years on the line as some do, and more.

  2. flynbrian48 says:

    Actually Brian I was thinking about you in the tool and die area.

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