As you may have realized by now, I have a significant interest in the “human side of quality” and have written about this subject on many occasions. This topic is still on my mind, so here is some free investment advice for the future. One thing about this advice is that it is free and has a significant return on investment.

Invest in yourself. Today’s world takes no pity on the people who do not continue to add value. We need to contribute more than we cost. It’s our contribution that counts. One way to accomplish this is by expanding our knowledge and experience. Lifelong learning is one way to remain competitive in the job market. Employers may help out, but ultimately it is our responsibility. We need to invest in our own growth and development.

Let’s defend our careers by developing a better portfolio of knowledge and skills than the next person. We need to prove our worth to our organizations and make a difference.

Add enough value so everyone can see that something very important would be missing if we left. Remember the following point: Getting a formal education is as important now as it always has been. A formal education results in many wonderful things and it will help you make a living. Self-education, on the other hand, will make you a fortune. Make self-education a large part of your life.

Invest in your people. With approximately a million jobs lost in the manufacturing sector over the past six months, it may be tempting to believe that “be happy you have a job” is the right sentiment to convey to your workforce. But it remains part of an organization’s responsibility to help ensure that the pact you have established between employer and employee is included in your continuous improvement process.

Every organization could use a more skilled workforce. This has been a differentiator in the past and will be in the future. Consider sending a promising employee to a training class at your local community college or invest in some computer-based training.

Can’t afford raises this year? Find some funding for your employee suggestion process and consider a tangible way to reward people for good ideas. You may not be able to unlock the credit markets, but you can work to unlock the talent in your ranks.

Invest in your facilities. More than 20 years ago, a National Research Council panel criticized U.S. manufacturers for “neglecting the manufacturing function” and said that wise investments in advanced manufacturing technology, “can improve costs, quality, flexibility and responsiveness.” The government should be doing all it can to promote technologies such as wind and solar power that promise new manufacturing jobs.

We also should help the businesses that produce machine tools and other technologies that will play a vital role in revitalizing our manufacturing sector. Not every investment in a facility requires a major capital expenditure. Most of us get a sense of an operation soon after we walk through the door. Is the facility clean, organized and well-lit? Are workstations designed for human beings the sizes, shapes and ages of the ones you actually employ? These tweaks to the work environment can have a powerful effect on productivity and morale.

Invest in the future. If you have children in college as I do, you may feel you’re making all the investment in the next generation you can stand-and then some. But what about your business? Every enterprise needs fresh ideas, new skills and an infusion of youthful energy. Are you planning to hire any interns this year? Give it a try and you may find that you paid a relative pittance to attract your future chief product engineer, systems architect or quality manager. If you believe that your most important assets walk through the door, invest in a few with a youthful bounce in their step.

Like any other investment choice, these are not without risks, but you wouldn’t be where you are without taking a few risks, including listening to free advice.