I've already written about this before, but there was a new article in USA Today about Toyota's commitment to its workers in San Antonio, even during a slow down in the truck market (and in truck production).
Now, about 2,000 permanent employees draw a paycheck from a plant that doesn't produce anything. They perform maintenance, talk about ways to improve quality, and relearn tasks as basic as the best way to drive a bolt.
Toyota has the financial strength to do this. I'm sure it has nothing to do with P.R. or being philanthropic. I'm sure keeping the workers on and training them (with real work, not just letting them sit in the cafeteria) is all about the long-term good of the company. Many of Toyota's suppliers (certainly part of the TPS sphere of influence) are not keeping their workers on — probably because they don't have the balance sheet to allow that?
They're luckier than the plant's 200 temporary workers who work as needed and an army of employees at its parts suppliers, who have been furloughed.
I wonder if Toyota would consider sponsoring similar quality training and TPS training for the suppliers' employees, expecting that to also help improve Toyota quality in the long run? Or does that just get to be too much of an expense?
There were some comments from Jeff Liker in the article, he said:
“If they laid off San Antonio workers for three months, that would be the shot heard 'round the world,” says Jeffrey Liker, a University of Michigan professor whose The Toyota Way and other books on Toyota's production system have become business best sellers.
If the training program for the San Antonio plant stoppage works, the result could be workers with higher skills and more loyalty, lowering the plant's costs in the future.
It also is building a reservoir of local good will.
“If I were in Texas, I think any sane person would say, ‘The market is awful, and this crazy company is actually keeping people employed,' ” Liker says.
So what are the workers doing during this production stoppage? There's a bit more detail in the article:
There's plenty for workers to do while not making trucks, Toyota officials insist. In the press to get production started, many new hires never were fully steeped in Toyota methods. Trainers now can make sure workers are knowledgeable about best practices, says Toyota spokesman Mike Goss.
Those can be as simple as the best way to drive bolts with an impact wrench, a process some workers may repeat thousands of times a day.
They might practice picking up five at a time in the exact configuration for each to be driven most efficiently.
That's an amazing level of detail for their “standardized work,” the exact way to pick up and hold the bolts. I'm impressed that Toyota can have both such attention to detail AND a long-term view. Are they perfect? No! They really misjudged the market for trucks (and they've had quality problems that have popped up along the way) — as Jim Womack pointed out in the article, they're far from perfect. But they're still an interesting company to watch and to learn from.
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