Magazine article Training & Development

Research Reports: Evidence from the Auto Industry

Magazine article Training & Development

Research Reports: Evidence from the Auto Industry

Article excerpt

Two business strategies are dominant in the international automobile industry:

* mass production

* flexible (or "lean") production.

In The Machine That Changed the World, James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos (New York: Rawson Associates, 1990) concluded that flexible or lean production was the core capability underlying the competitive advantage of Japanese auto companies in the 1970s and 1980s.

Earlier explanations had emphasized factors specific to the Japanese economy and culture. But the high performance achieved by Japanese assembly plants in the United States in the 1980s undermined those assumptions. The "transplant" companies achieved those results with American workers. engineers, and managers; with industry wages and benefits similar to those in U.S. plants; and with comparable levels of automation.

The International Assembly Plant Study was conducted by the International Motor Vehicle Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where John Paul MacDuffie was a student. The IMVP research program lasted from 1985 to 1990; virtually every automotive company in the world sponsored it. Today, the IMVP continues as one of the centers for industry studies that is funded by the Sloan Foundation.

Differed approaches to HR management. MacDuffie - now an assistant professor of management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania - argued that flexible-production systems require a different approach to managing human resources than do mass-production systems.

In an article entitled, "Human Resource Bundles and Manufacturing Performance: Flexible Production Systems in the World Auto Industry," to be published in Industrial and Labor Relations Review. MacDuffie explains how human resource practices are integrated into the different production systems. He tests the relationship between human resource practices and performance in 62 automotive-assembly plants worldwide.

If human resource practices are to contribute to performance, he argues, companies must motivate skilled and knowledgeable workers - and must integrate their human resource systems with their production strategies. As appropriate units for study, he identifies sets of interrelated and internally consistent human resource practices - not individual practices. …

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