6/17/2010 | 3 MINUTE READ

Maslow and Metalworking

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At the PMPA National Technical Conference this spring, I got a memory jog, compliments of Bill Cox of Cox Manufacturing Company and Mike Petrusch, V.P. of manufacturing. Bill and Mike were presenters and were charged with discussing the topic of Workforce Development.

Bill and Mike built their well-received presentation around Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which they use at the company as a blueprint for developing the workforce. My memory jog brought back thoughts of Maslow’s principles that I learned about in high school Psychology.

Developed in the 1940’s by psychologist Abraham Maslow, the hierarchy of needs first appeared in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” and his subsequent book “Motivation and Personality.” Usually, Maslow’s hierarchy is presented as a pyramid divided into five levels of needs, with peoples’ most basic needs on the baseline and more complex needs located at the top of the pyramid.          

The thinking for this pyramid is that as a person realizes his or her needs on a given level they will naturally progress to the next level. For example, the base level is made up of physiological needs. These include basics for survival such as air, water, shelter, food and sleep. According to Maslow, until these basic needs are met, everything else becomes secondary.      

The next level contains safety needs. These are important for survival, but not as critical as our physiological needs. Safety needs might be fulfilled by living in a safe neighborhood, having medical insurance, job security and having some money in the bank.

Once a person has the basics nailed down and is able to feel secure, the next level of the pyramid becomes a focus. Maslow calls these higher level needs social needs. These needs relate to interactions with other people and may include the need for friends, family, the need to belong, and the need to receive and give love. Of course fulfilling social needs is a bit more difficult if you live in a box under a bridge and beg for food which is why these needs are presented as a hierarchy. Fulfilling one level of needs enables access to the next.

So as a person becomes comfortable with a sense of belonging, the need to feel important arises. This fourth level of needs is what Maslow calls “esteem.” These higher level needs are subdivided into internal esteem that relates to self esteem such as self respect and achievement and external esteem, which deals with the need for social status and recognition.

At top of the pyramid is the need for self-actualization. It is the ongoing quest to reach one’s full potential as a person. Unlike the lower level needs, this need is never fully satisfied because as a person grows psychologically, there are always new opportunities to continue to grow.

Management can benefit from understanding this hierarchy of needs and using it, as Cox Manufacturing does, to develop in-house programs that address employees’ needs at each level of the pyramid. Reading through Bill and Mike’s Power Point presentation, which covers the specific programs his company has in place, made me think, “why not create a hierarchy of needs for manufacturers?”

At the base of my pyramid would be access to capital. Without the wherewithal to invest in the business, its growth stymies, and the most basic needs of the company cannot be met.

As for our safety, wouldn’t it be nice if regulations were written and enforced to benefit business rather than perpetuate bureaucracies? Don’t get me wrong: Regulation is necessary, but it should contain some common sense and not be arbitrary.

On the level of social needs, I’d put a couple of points: One is a national understanding of the need for a strong manufacturing base in this country; and two, an education system that delivers trained students with the skills needed.

Under “esteem,” I suggest a revaluation of manufacturing as a good, solid career. I’d love to erase the stereotype that kids who work in shops are losers. College is not for everyone, and our culture needs to adjust itself to that fact without prejudice.

And at the top of my pyramid I’d insist that the R&D tax credits are made permanent. We currently evaluate them annually, and that’s not the way for manufacturing and technology to self-actualize.

That’s my pyramid. Please feel free to send me your thoughts.