EDUCATION

RMIT Furniture Technology

Some three decades ago I partook in the pleasure to study under the “Furniture Making Gurus” of RMIT Furniture Technology.

A.K.A. THE WORKING MAN’S COLLEGE

Some three decades ago I partook in the pleasure to study under the furniture making gurus of RMIT Furniture Technology, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology – Victoria, Australia. Leading the Team was the ever-patient Hendreijkus Berkers with his band of merry women and men.

The experiment, though doomed from the start, was to pilot TQM, Total Quality Management (a.k.a. Statistical Control) for the entire RMIT University. Doomed it was as the economic and political forces had put a seemingly impenetrable barrier in front of us in the form of government policy due to the prevailing winds of globalization.

The then government’s mantra of a level playing field meant that mega furniture companies, rumoured to employ Russian prisoners in Siberia for as little as AU$0.01 a day, are competing with Australian companies, paying their lowest-paid workers approximately AU$25.00 per hour.

None the less, Henry (Hendreijkus) soldiered on, in a near ten-year experiment, with a great personal commitment and occasional annoyance from me badgering him in my guerrilla type warfare, moral justice, way.

“All sticking out nails will be hammered in!”

Hendreijkus (Henry) Berkers …old Japanese proverb.

This philosophy seems to work unless you’re particularly belligerent. All jokes aside, the Australian furniture industry went from 80% local manufacturing and 20% imports, in 1992, to 20% local manufacturing and 80% imports, in 2020! Whatever, the local furniture industry ground to a near halt in Australia, it may have taken thirty years, but nobody heeded Henry’s warning. The warning to turn the tide, on the Australian furniture manufacturing industry, from one of “She’ll be right, Mate!”, “Don’t fix it until it’s broken!” To that of “How can we improve this?” or “Is there a better way?” This seemed to be reflected across the board of all manufacturing in Australia.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Charles Darwin

One could conclude that evidence would suggest the Australian furniture manufacturing industry was, mostly not ready to change.

From the Australian dictionary:

She’ll Be Right Mate (Cheal-B-Roight, Maeeee) – meaning: Mediocrity is what we’re aiming for, near enough is good enough! Used in a sentence, (Barry) “Gosh! The front wheel just fell off the car while we’re going 140 kilometres an hour down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere!” (Bruce) “She’ll be right mate, so long as you don’t hit that Kangaroo. You might want to drive with both hands!”

Don’t Fix it Until it’s Broken (Done-Fixet-Til-Ets-Broke) meaning: Preventable and predictable problem solving should be avoided at all cost. Used in a sentence, (Cynthia) “Hey Marg! That spanner I dropped in the new $100 million dollar machine is liable to get caught in the gears and halt production for six weeks while we get a new part from Germany. I’m going out for a smoke.” (Marg) I’ll join you, don’t fix it until it’s broken, ay!”

You can read about TQM (Total Quality Management), Kaizen, Durant or Deming. I’m sure there are other authors but reading original source material is often the best and most logical way to start.

My favourite is Edward D. Deming but he just appeals to my sense of a combination of philosophy and science. Since Durant is a bit dry for me, numbers and theory (it is statistical control), Deming appeals to me more in that he takes into account the human factor, that people are doing this for the people and not people doing this for the sake of numbers.

Apparently, the hardest part of installing statistical control methodology is establishing the culture of continuous improvement. It seems to work in a culture like Japan but statistical control started in the USA. What Deming and Durant did in the USA before being sent to Japan, by the USA government, to rebuild the Japanese industry after World War Two (WW2), is unclear. What remains is the proof of result with the statistical control’s greatest success being the Japanese and their manufacturing industry/culture.

While Japan and the Japanese may have some problems with the standard of living, statistics may seem a bit grim lately. They have enjoyed quite a long period of economic strength since WW2.

There are other measures by which you might consider success besides the standard of living, like the future of the ageing population of Japan, the plight of wage slaves (a.k.a. Salary Men) and high suicide rates. Where once you heard the popularly held belief that Japanese products were inferior (seems to be an Australian thing) you now find people talk about Japanese products as having great qualities. Some people go as far as to say they even have a spiritual quality!

“The Spirit of the Maker Lives in the Product.”

“Kami” – Japanese origins, Shinto religion.

Ironically the ‘Xerox’ (Photocopier) was designed in Australia, yet nearly half a century later there are no photocopier makers in Australia, that I know of. I know if I look around my house I can see three photocopiers, I have thrown countless more in the recycling bin since first buying a printer, but this ubiquitous product skipped its opportunity in Australia.

While my photocopiers are probably made in China, I don’t know, I never looked, and probably manufactured using Japanese technology and companies whose major shareholders have addresses in the Cayman Islands or other tax havens, I can’t help but feel the need to apply the measures I applied to Japan, to Australians.

Our standard of living is OK. We make most of our export money from digging a hole, a very big hole. Mining…but it’s OK. We are now reducing costs and gaining strength by reducing the steps in the supply chain. Selling the mining rights directly to other countries companies. Tourism, I must admit, Australia is a very beautiful country. Mind you I haven’t travelled overseas much to compare, just Tasmania. Education, you can obviously tell by my superior intellect that I have been educated in Australia, so our third biggest export is safe in that department! Our ageing population hasn’t yet reached its peak, so we’re a couple of decades or so behind Japan, it is too early to tell.

For some reason, despite constantly being reminded “We’re the Lucky Country” or “We’re the clever Country” or whatever slogan our government of the month might like their marketing team to dream up, our suicide rates are consistently amongst the highest, if not the highest, in the world. Fair Dinkum.

From the Australian dictionary:

Fair Dinkum (Fairrr-Dinnnk-Um) – meaning: The Honest Truth. Used in a sentence, (Grace) “Are you telling me the Dutch were in Australia before the British? …..25th October 1616 Dirk Hartog setting foot on Hartog Island thus becoming the second Dutch Man to walk on Australian soil, the first being Willem Janszoon on the 26th February 1606, Fair Dinkum?” (Macka) “Are you telling me indigenous Australians were Dutch and we know this because they arrived in Australia before the British ‘Crickie!’ Fair Dinkum?” (Gulpililly) “What? My Family arrived, a few or so 10’s of 1,000’s of years before that, Fair Dinkum!”

Crickie (Cry-Key) – meaning: The moment of the realization of suspended disbelief. Used in a sentence “Crickie, you can trust the Australian government to tell the truth that suits their fragile ego.”

So what does RMIT Furniture Technology, statistical control and national wellbeing measures have in common? You could say Australian’s are sick to death of the government’s revolving door policy in management and managers thereof.

Power and privilege in this country provide misguided direction heading into an abyss of paper shufflers manned by educated people. These people performing for a $1, not because they believe in their argument/job but because that is the way the system has been designed. As the son of an upholsterer, I hope those people are feeling rather uncomfortable right now. I bet they’re trembling in their designer office chairs …it seems I have an axe to grind!

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