Demand for 'Lean,' not Six Sigma, Competencies on Rise

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Feb 23, 2010

Companies are seeking more applicants who possess “Lean” skills and competencies than those with Six Sigma competence, according to the latest study of almost 3,500 recent job postings reviewed by global executive search and recruiting firm The Avery Point Group, which specializes in placing Lean and Six Sigma talent. The now-dominant standing of Lean indicates that companies are increasingly relying on that as the core foundation for their continuous improvement efforts to help them face the challenges of today's economic downturn.

Six Sigma is one of the most widely recognized quality improvement methods used in businesses today. Lean up to this point is a discipline that has been used primarily in the manufacturing sector to focus specifically on process speed and efficiency. Specifically, it is the “body of knowledge and tools businesses use to remove all non-value-added time and activity from their processes,” according to the definition in the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Lean Six Sigma. Many companies often use both, or Lean Six Sigma, to help meet their business goals and customer needs.

“As an executive recruiting firm, we have a unique vantage point from which to observe the latest trends taking place in industry,” explains Tim Noble, managing principal of The Avery Point Group, in a statement about the report, titled Annual Study of Lean & Six Sigma Talent Demand Trends.“Trends in industry are often telegraphed into candidate requirements in job postings, and they can serve as a window into the latest corporate initiatives. Our annual study continues to serve as an industry benchmark that offers useful insight into the latest trends taking place in the area of corporate continuous improvement.”

Based on its sixth annual study of Internet job postings, The Avery Point Group found that demand for Lean talent has surpassed Six Sigma by a substantial margin as the more desired skill set, accelerating an already growing shift in talent demand toward Lean. The 2009 study showed that Lean talent demand exceeded Six Sigma by almost 35 percent, significantly widening its lead over 2008’s results, which showed only an 11 percent edge for Lean over Six Sigma. This is a dramatic shift from The Avery Point Group's 2005 inaugural Lean and Six Sigma talent demand study, which showed Six Sigma talent demand exceeding Lean by more than 50 percent.

In addition,the 2009 study found that for those companies seeking Lean talent, only 41 percent require candidates to possess Six Sigma knowledge as well—a requirement that has continued to decline in The Avery Point Group's most recent talent demand studies. On the other hand, for those companies seeking Six Sigma talent, almost 55 percent are requiring candidates to possess Lean knowledge too—a requirement that has steadily grown in its previous talent demand studies.

“For companies seeking Lean practitioners, these results may be signaling a possible trend toward a decoupling of Lean and Six Sigma, or at the very least a de-emphasis on Six Sigma as a core job requirement for Lean talent,” states Noble. “It may also indicate that companies are instead opting to consolidate their limited resources around Lean as a hedge against the steep challenges of today’s economic climate, which they feel may be better served by Lean’s more immediate and practical focus on waste, flow and flexibility.”

The 2009 study also focused on how requirements for certifications played into job specifications for Lean and Six Sigma talent. Findings reveal that companies that sought Six Sigma talent were almost 50 percent more likely to require some form of certification versus those companies seeking Lean talent.

“From a Six Sigma talent demand perspective, this is by no means a surprise,” states Noble. “Six Sigma, due to its broader historical industry span, developed a legacy of training and certification that we are now just beginning to see for Lean as it gains a broader foothold in industry. A good example of this is the newly established benchmark AME/SME/Shingo Lean certification. As Lean continues to gain more prominence, we fully expect our future annual studies to show increases in Lean certification requirements in job postings.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an editor/content manager for SHRM Online.

Related Articles

Going Global to Last, HR Magazine, August 2009

Human Resources: Part of the Team, HR Magazine, July 2008

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