Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black Belt. Plant floors in recent years have been sounding more like martial arts classes than manufacturing operations. These warriors are trained to specialize in Six Sigma, the statistical analysis process developed by Motorola Inc. in the 1980s to eliminate waste. In the past, Six Sigma skills were considered more desirable than general lean knowledge, according to a study by executive search firm Avery Point Group. But more companies these days are looking for candidates who demonstrate a mix of lean and Six Sigma skills.

"When it comes to desired skill sets, companies want to have their cake and eat it, too," says Tim Noble, managing principal of Avery. "Even though companies may not have a full-blown Six Sigma or lean deployment underway, our study shows each year they increasingly desire candidates that possess Six Sigma, lean or both skill sets in their DNA."

Based on a sampling of Internet job postings, the study shows that demand for lean talent grew from 2006 to 2007 to nearly equal that of Six Sigma. The study also concludes that 38% of companies seeking Six Sigma talent are looking for employees who also have lean expertise. On the other hand, 42% of companies advertising for lean practitioners require some Six Sigma exposure.

In addition, the study shows companies are putting less emphasis on "belt" certifications, with less than one-fifth of Six Sigma postings seeking to specifically fill Master Black Belt and Black Belt roles. "Companies are increasingly opting instead to inject candidates who posses Six Sigma and lean skill sets into regular line roles versus creating standalone structured continuous improvement roles, as often was the case with Six Sigma positions in the past," Noble says.

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