When Sun Life Financial goes to market to bolster its growing team of "lean" business specialists, it faces wide-ranging competition – jostling on job boards with companies as varied as Telus, Bombardier, Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, Shoppers Drug Mart, Kraft Foods and the City of Vancouver.
On any given day, there are hundreds of postings on Canadian online job sites for people with formal certification in techniques known as Lean and Six Sigma, as well as the strong managerial skills needed to lead organizational change.
The two techniques are methodical, detailed approaches to analyzing and solving problems and improving efficiency and quality. The techniques began in manufacturing (Lean at Toyota, Six Sigma at General Electric), and trained specialists are now in hot demand across all sectors.
Organizations are eager to find people with skills to analyze how they operate, identify waste, and devise better and more cost-effective methods of delivering quality goods and services.
"There's quite a bit of competition [for talent] out there," said Andre Gonthier, senior recruiting consultant at Sun Life. "Every business is looking to improve itself and, quite frankly, that's what we're trying to do."
Sun Life is introducing a management system based on lean principles and has been recruiting for positions such as a process director to "manage a portfolio of transformation and improvement efforts," and senior business process consultants to assess the performance and capability of processes and operational groups, "identify opportunities and champion proposals for improvement."
"These are very important roles … and it sounds like a cliché, but it's about taking us to the next level," Mr. Gonthier said. "We believe that this is providing real value to how Sun Life does business."
Salary depends on experience. One ad gave a starting range of $75,000 to $97,000 and others in the field say senior positions pay much more.
Here is a look at the demand, the opportunities, and what it takes to develop these hot skills:
Jmee Lynn Widjaya, a business excellence delivery leader at Sun Life, was first exposed to lean business principles in the aerospace industry, where she landed a job after graduating with an honours bachelor's degree in business administration from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. Her employer at the time sponsored her initial "green belt" certification training in 2002, and she went on to acquire her "black belt" – the top level – at York University's Schulich School of Business. She worked in the banking and media sectors before being recruited by Sun Life Financial this year.
She said the most sought-after practitioners have strong people skills and hard technical skills. "We bring our set of tools and methodology, but then we really lean on the people who are intimately involved with the process to help us understand what they do and why they do it," Ms. Widjaya said. "Through brainstorming sessions, they come up with ideas that we help them shape into projects that … will achieve the [desired] goals and benefits."
The most valuable candidates are those who have a university degree, some business experience and a certificate in lean business processes, which most business schools offer through their continuing education divisions.
Mr. Gonthier usually recruits people with actuarial, engineering or business administration backgrounds, but the door is not closed to someone with an arts degree who has mastered the Lean Six Sigma methodologies.
"Process improvement isn't limited to one department. It is across this organization, so people who join us have the opportunity to meet a lot of people, use a lot of different skills that wouldn't necessarily come to the forefront when you think about this type of work," he said. "One of the key components is asking questions, understanding what Sun Life's business is and how innovative it needs to be."
Rod Morgan is vice-president of program management at e-Zsigma (Canada) Inc., a process improvement consulting firm, and an instructor in Lean Six Sigma at Schulich. He said his students are mainly adults from a range of business backgrounds such as banking, health care and manufacturing.
The training is customized to their industry needs and they require some practical experience, in addition to the classroom or online lessons, to earn Lean Six Sigma certification.
"One of the biggest things, when organizations are hiring these skilled resources, is that they know this skill set is totally transferable," he said. "You can take this skill set that you are applying in a service organization, walk across the street and apply it in a manufacturing company, or walk across the street and apply it in a hospital."