What do fast-food restaurants have in common with assembly lines? More than you might think.


I’ve been busy crunching numbers and analyzing data from our 16th annual State of the Profession study (results will be published in the July issue of ASSEMBLY). One trend that I’ve noted is a possible skilled labor shortage, as many assembly lines start to ramp up again after several slow years.

More than one-third (38 percent) of respondents said a shortage of skilled labor will affect their plant’s overall competitive advantage during the next 12 months. That’s 9 percentage points higher than in 2010 and 12 percentage points higher than 2009.

Whenever I visit a plant, I’m always interested to know where local assemblers come from. Is it good to hire people with previous manufacturing experience? Or, is it better to find someone with the right skill set and then train them to do a particular assembly task?

On several different occasions, plant managers have told me that they’ve had good luck with people who previously worked in the fast-food industry (the correct term for all those burger joints is “quick serve restaurant”). That past-paced environment requires consistency, error-proofing, standardization and teamwork.

I recently read an interesting article in Bloomberg Businessweek that provides an in-depth look at Taco Bell. The company has perfected kitchen operations that are fast and efficient. Its lean production process stresses quality, throughput and customer service.

The article claims that “the most advanced operational thinking in the world is going on in the back of a quick service restaurant.” Those plant managers I’ve talked to may be on to something. Perhaps the skills needed to mass-produce burgers, shakes and fries also translate well to assembling cars, planes and refrigerators.

What do you think? Have you ever hired anyone who previously worked at Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s or elsewhere?