employers have the flexibility to respond
to sudden changes.
Pay and Compensation
Flexible compensation is another variable automakers will consider. Several
international automakers have explored
flexible methods of pay, including variable pay, bonuses, gain sharing, and profit
sharing. Many domestic automakers have
shifted toward this model. New agreements between the Detroit Three and the
United Auto Workers union contain lump
sums, bonuses, and a renewed emphasis
on profit sharing in place of annual raises
and cost-of-living adjustments.
Given the number of workers lost
during the most recent downturn, CAR
researchers wondered if the industry
suffered from a loss of specialized skills
or institutional knowledge. For the most
part, automotive executives cited few
issues regarding loss of capability or
knowledge with the downsizing of the
workforce. However, as one respondent
noted, “We lost a lot of good employees
and a lot of experience.”
With a proclivity toward multi-faceted
workers, employers are focused on
continuous improvement initiatives,
including structured problem solving
and training exercises.
All workers—hourly and salaried—
must possess the so-called “soft skills”
critical for collaboration, systems
integration, and problem solving. It is no
longer sufficient to be a deep technical
expert; employees must also be strong,
budget-conscious communicators who
can see the big picture by taking a systems approach to their work.
In an industry known for its cycli-cality, automakers and suppliers now
understand how best to structure their
business to attract and retain workers,
and, hopefully, how to weather future
downturns. Workers who can wear many
hats, solve problems, and see the big picture will have a leg up in the revamped
and revitalized automotive industry.
KRISTIN DZICZEK is director of the Labor
and Industry Group and assistant research
director at the Center for Automotive
Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
NEXT FOR AMERICA’S AUTO WORKERS?
Macomb Community College President Jim Jacobs highlights the benefits of a
consortium to help local automotive workers (