Want to read a book about China and the people who actually work in the factories? My good friend Steve Welsh (IMS) recently lent me Factory Girls: Voices from the heart of modern China, by Leslie T Chang and I have to highly recommend it. Factory Girlsis a modern account of the lives, loves and day to day challenges of the women who work in Chinese factories in modern China's factory hub, Dongguan. Leslie spends countless hours with some of the local workers, who left their rural hometowns to find work and money in the big smoke. The reason I like this book, is that all too often people get caught up in the day-to-day business of international trade and manufacturing and forget the human element to this equation. They forget or have no idea in most cases what goes on behind the scenes away from the flashy trade fairs, glossy magazines and glorious websites. Sometimes, knowing what really goes on helps you to make better business decisions and fewer unrealistic expectations.
The people side of manufacturing
Manufacturing is a process that requires many elements. It requires the sales team to take your order, the sampling team to interpret your specifications and then the manufacturing team to take instruction to mass produce your goods. Before they start though, they must communicate with one or many sub-suppliers who deliver the raw materials required. Once delivered and prepared, production can start as soon as the production line staff have been educated about the product requirements and what their role is on the production line. There will be many departments inside and outside the factory that need to talk with each other. On the production line, the production manager should oversee the production and if he has given good instructions there should be no problems. The quality manager should understand the desired outcome and then watch the production to make sure the goods are to specification and ensure the materials supplied are the right colour, shape, quantity and quality. Once complete the packaging team is then responsible to safely package your goods with cardboard, foam, glue, strapping tape and so on. They then hand over to the logistics team who liaise with your freight forwarder to pack the goods onto your container and then deliver it to the port where it will be shipped. I would happily testify that no one worker on the production line would have had the opportunity to travel overseas. In most cases, people lower in the administrative chain, would not have even ventured into a high-end western style supermarket or 5-star hotel. Next time you demand 'I want it to Australian standards', think about whether they really know what you are talking about? The key to successful manufacturing and thus importing is knowledge, training and due diligence. In part, your Chinese manufacturer will take on this role. But you will also need to share this information depending on the factory's exposure to the way us westerners want things -yes, you need to get involved! Next time you contact your manufacturer, think about what happens after you place that order? Who is the person talking to you on Skype? How do the managers educate their employees? Why is their written English better than their spoken? What happens if someone doesn't come back from their Chinese New Year holiday? Who suffers when the sample is not right, the client demands a refund or the production team forgets an important step in the manufacturing process? -Lisa Goodhand is the director if China operations at China Blueprint