The private sector offers a number of resources that manufacturers can buy to solve problems, to modernize their production operations, and to upgrade the skills of their workers. Among these are consultants, suppliers of technology, trade associations and professional societies, and other miscellaneous service providers. While not providing direct assistance, the trade press and industrial expositions and conferences also serve as important sources of information on new technology and management techniques.
Smaller companies report mixed results in working with consultants. The backgrounds and expertise of many consultants are primarily founded on principles relevant to larger corporations; they often fail to appreciate subtle but important differences in smaller organizations. Although some consultants specialize in working with smaller firms, a company may have difficulty locating a consulting source with the right mix of background and expertise. Executives in smaller firms may also have difficulty defining their problems or specifying exactly what they expect of a consultant.
Many smaller companies may be reluctant to engage a consultant on a long-term basis, and those hired for short-term projects may have little or no follow-up responsibility. Furthermore, a small firm may simply disagree with or otherwise fail to implement the recommendations of the consultant.
Consultants secure much of their business through "word of mouth" referrals among clients' peers. But small firms may not have a well enough developed peer network to find satisfactory consultants in this manner. Some manufacturing assistance organizations, including the Manufacturing Technology Centers (MTCs), have developed a cadre of third-party consultants and are able to help firms identify and select appropriate experts. Associations and professional societies often provide this kind of help as well, identifying consultants with appropriate experience and expertise in relatively narrow segments of industry.
Selective use of consultants is a way for industrial assistance providers to broaden and extend their services, especially when their budgets or third-party funding allows them to absorb part of the consultant's fees and expenses that would be billed to the client. The