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UB students putting Six Sigma to work Can help employers improve efficiency

People Inc.'s hiring process needed some help.

In some cases, it took five weeks for a new hire to start on the job at the nonprofit human services agency. In other cases, it took as long as 10 weeks.

Enter two University at Buffalo graduate students, who applied the principles of the Six Sigma business discipline that they were studying. Last year, they scrutinized People Inc.'s hiring methods and helped sharply reduce the time it took for a new hire to start a job to an average of five weeks, from about nine weeks.

Proponents of the Six Sigma program offered through UB say employers can bring those types of meaningful results to their own workplace, in a variety of industries.

Organizers are putting out the call to local companies and agencies to host UB graduate and undergraduate students who are enrolled in UB's Six Sigma Black Belt Student Certification program in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Twenty-five UB students -- a record high -- have applied for the upcoming edition of the program. Five employers have already agreed to participate, said Timothy Leyh, executive director of the Center for Industrial Effectiveness, which administers the program under UB's industrial and systems engineering department.

Employers pay $4,900 to sponsor a student. The students work on a two-semester project, spending 12 to 16 hours per week on site. They are supported by a UB Master Black Belt -- Six Sigma's term for an expert -- who acts as a mentor and helps the company identify a project to work on.

Six Sigma has its roots in manufacturing but is used in all kinds of fields, including health care, banking and education. The data-driven system aims to eliminate variation in processes to save money and time.

Leyh said a program such as the one offered through UB benefits employers and students alike.

Employers get to analyze an issue they might not otherwise have the time, money or resources to devote to, he said. "We go about our work every day, and we all know there are things we'd like to fix," he said. And when a Six Sigma project ends, employers have solutions to act on.

Nancy Palumbo, vice president of administrative services at People Inc., said the two students who worked on a project there helped streamline the nonprofit's hiring methods.

People has made its job interview process far more efficient, she said. The organization now keeps tabs on a pool of job applicants it can tap into when the right opening comes along, she said.

With an outsider's viewpoint, the students were able to spot little things that made a difference -- for instance, including specific callback times on phone messages for job applicants to make contact more quickly.

The students enrolled in the UB Six Sigma program, which is in its seventh year, get to apply their education in a real-world setting, as well as build their resume for a job search. "The students are having success," Leyh said. "They're getting placed. The program is a differentiator."

Rakesh Nagi, chairman of the UB industrial and systems engineering department, noted that Six Sigma also has caught on outside the United States. Many UB students are from other countries and can take those skills with them, he said.

Some past participants in the program have been hired by the companies where they carried out projects, Leyh said.

For employers who decide to sponsor a student, the most important factor is commitment, Leyh said. "I can't emphasize the 'c' word enough," he said. "They have to provide some leadership for this student and our mentor. It's not that they have to do the work for them, but they have to be the connector, or communicator."

Employers interested in the program are asked to make contact by Friday to ensure students will be lined up for a summer or fall start. For more information, contact Gary Simon at 645-8837 or


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