The Financial Times has reported that Europe could learn a lot from Britain's motor industry.
The report comes in light of the recent contracts that have been won within the automobile industry compared to the continent where car plants are said to be falling silent as work stalls. The secret to Britain's recent success? Flexibility. Specifically, the offer of work flexibility, which in turns offers Britain's manufacturers the chance to provide round the clock production.
The FT reported that employees at Germany's Opel plant, alongside France's PSA Peugeot Citroen, are preparing for job cuts. This is in sharp contrast to Britain who recently secured contracts with Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover. The latter are currently hiring more workers and there is news that Toyota and Honda are scheduling jobs in their UK plants. It is accepted that flexibility alone is not the sole reason for Britain's relative success. Clearly a combination of competitive exchange rates and successful products has also assisted. The industry, however, is known for its high fixed costs, and flexible working is helping to spread that cost as well as meet the cyclical demand.
It is said that by introducing round the clock, twenty four hour production allows a “sweating of the assets”. Jaguar Land Rover's HR Director commented that “car manufacturing is a capital intensive business, so if you can get your capital utilisation up it's a great thing”. In the next year or so Nissan will be running two lines over twenty four hours in its British plant for the first time in its twenty six year history. Jaguar Land Rover will also be taking on more workers and plans on introducing three shifts on Monday to Friday.
In addition to the the shift pattern, Sunderland's Nissan plant offers flexibility in the tasks of its workers. In a practice that would be very unusual on the continent, they rotate the roles of their staff. This means that a worker may be installing a window screen one month and dropping in the engine the next. This has multiple benefits for both the manufacturer and the worker themselves. Workers are carefully graded to assess which tasks they are proficient in and whether or not they are at a stage where they can train others on the job. Such flexibility in task keeps staff motivated and interested. Britain has tried different methods of being more flexible in the midst of the recession which hit the motor industry harshly. In 2010 Jaguar Land Rover's workers agreed to various methods of flexibility that ultimately saved jobs and allowed production to continue.
Roger Maddison, national officer of the auto industry with Unite, explained that although we have witnessed a lot of work move from Britain, some appears to be coming back now due to our ability to work flexibly. In the past much has been mentioned about how flexible work patterns can improve life and morale for workers, but the success of Britain's motor industry proves it can go even further, also massively benefiting the employers. It seems that it's about time that managers and not just HR people seized the opportunity to extend flexible working options beyond the basic legal requirements and reap the benefits on offer.