The purpose of this paper is to evidence the emergence of new forms of work organisation which if observed could be seen as consistent with the concept of the “learning factory”. This is attempted through reporting the views of those workers engaged in team based operations and reflects upon the emerging role of first‐line and team‐based supervisors. The implications of such developments are then considered from the perspective of the current HR plant managers.
This paper reports on a study of 18 US and UK automotive component suppliers. The information gathered included questionnaire data detailing management practices and giving plant level performance measures. The paper draws primarily on data gathered from interviews conducted with workers, team leaders and managers, including HR managers.
While the majority of plants may be some way from a “learning factory” model there is evidence of changing practices, structures and expectations in each that are in varying ways broadly consistent with elements of this approach. As a consequence of the prioritisation for increases in devolution of responsibility to other employees, the traditional role of the HR manager was seen to be evolving which to a number of managers was creating difficulties.
This paper contributes to the growing evidence of the devolvement of traditional “managerial” responsibilities to lower levels within increasingly “lean” manufacturing organisations. It also comments on the evolving role of HR managers in contemporary manufacturing.
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