Air Force in Okinawa gives Japanese workers a voice in improving office inefficiencies
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — A new course is giving Japanese base workers a voice to report inefficiencies and improve the operation of their offices at 18 Wing Headquarters.
The Wing translated the Air Force‘s “continuous process improvement” training principles into Japanese and began offering it in January 2021. It aims to increase efficiency by using “different methodologies to solve Air Force problems while reducing unnecessary processes. The command said in an October 2019 statement outlining the importance of the training.
The aim of the Kadena course is to bridge the cultural gap and give Japanese employees – called master builders or MLCs – an official channel to seek improvements. So far, about 200 of Kadena’s 3,500 MLCs have completed the course.
“We have cultural differences, and every year the leaders change and you have to learn different leadership styles and personalities,” said Naoya Yonamine, a management analyst with the 718th Force Support Squadron who helped start the course, in a recent E-mail.
Security officer Hiroyuki Miyagi, who is chief of the operations section of the 18th Security Forces Squadron, has taken the course twice, hoping to find ways to save time and money.
“Sometimes the boss doesn’t want ideas for [subordinates]; me too, sometimes,” said a smiling Miyagi, 52, during a break from class on March 15.
Miyagi said he had worked at Kadena for 25 years and had never really had a say in how inefficiencies were handled in his office. He credits the course with boosting morale and building a stronger community.
“This course helps everyone be heard,” he said, adding that Japanese people may be hesitant to talk about problems or possible solutions.
The Air Force teaches Airmen process improvement through its 40-hour online green belt training course, 18th Wing process manager Master Sgt. Maurice Monroe said during an interview in December.
Training has never been offered to host nation employees at foreign bases, even though they often survive rotating US military deployments.
“We work side-by-side in most wing offices,” Monroe said. “We are one force working towards the same goal, and it is important for us to work as a team. Using these tools and techniques facilitates more effective resolution of areas for improvement. »
At the end of 2020, Monroe, Yonamine and Hayato Kaneshima, a social relations specialist at Kadena’s civilian personnel office, came up with the idea of offering the training to MLCs. Yonamine and Kaneshima synthesized and translated Air Force documents.
The goal is for all MLCs to take the voluntary course, so that every worker on the base is on the same page when it comes to spotting and reporting inefficiencies, Monroe said.
A group of administrative MLCs have since used the training to delegate authority and reduce the number of people needed to approve documents before they can be sent, simplifying that process, he said.
“We don’t want to work harder but smarter, and it will give us a good opportunity to express ourselves or come up with ideas,” Yonamine said.