Employee Development in ManufacturingLike most big pharma companies, in recent years Merck has embarked on resturcturing programs aimed at maintaining profits in the face of slowed revenue growth. Most recently, the company announced plans to reduce its global payroll by 7,200.
As far as I can tell, few, if any, of those layoffs will affect the Merck Manufacturing Division (MMD) plant in Australia, where, according to its website:
- The plant has five manufacturing suites, nine compressing suites, four film-coating suites, and eleven packaging suites.
- 61 medicines are produced in over 1000 combinations for local and overseas markets; some of these are Merck products for which the plant is the sole global supplier.
- About 53.6 million packages containing one billion tablets are manufactured annually.
Specifically, in 2004 the New South Wales Office of Industrial Relations published a case study detailing steps the Merck plant had undertaken to develop "a learning and teamwork culture based on the concepts of best practice in work-based training."
The Before situation at the plant:
Until about  the company's work organisation operated on the traditional Taylorist model. According to Robert Justice, Manager, Human Resources at MSD, despite the company's desire to collaborate with employees and their representatives, MMD was "in the dark ages in the way (they) consulted with people". Management practices were inconsistent with future strategic direction.MMD decided it needed to "move away from an industrial focus and toward a focus on employees including an opening up of the channels of communication and information sharing." One key means of accomplishing this was formation of an Employee Development Committee.
Demarcation barriers and the mistrust between management and employees were identified as the biggest barriers to teamwork within the workplace. These barriers existed between management and shopfloor employees and also between employees of different classifications within the workplace. This contributed to a culture of departmental self-interest.
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Prior to 1993 MMD had no developed culture of continuous learning and training. Training was informal, unplanned and based on a need-to-know basis, consisting of a "buddy system" in which an incumbent passed on skills to others whilst on-the-job. Operational instructions then, according to Debbie Samoley, Workplace Change Facilitator, were not user friendly. The result was a range of inconsistent performance levels from employees who did not have a clear understanding of the whole production process.
Elected by popular vote, rather than by departmental representation, the Employee Development Committee comprises eight shopfloor representative and four representatives from senior management. It acts as a forum for general discussion between management and employee representatives on issues like training and development, employee initiatives and suggestions, and workplace change.As a result of the reform efforts, the plant has an encouraging After situation:
Work-based training, based on best practice principles, now constitutes the main type of training at MMD. ...Four skill levels are defined: Introductory, Competent, Mastery, and Expert.
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A personal training plan is also established to ensure employees who wish to do so may have the opportunity to advance their skills. Training at the site is typically modular and self-paced.
A new plant employee classification structure was introduced with a basic platform of utilising a high level of introductory skills and the provision of training and development opportunities to allow employees to acquire and utilise further skills. Based on a "learning organisation" approach, the classification structure directly links training plans for departments and individuals.
The plant also offers training in interpersonal skills aimed at helping staff build and maintain good working relations. Results have been positive:
Departments now work more closely together. Free flowing communication, training and sharing of information between the manufacturing, packaging, planning and quality assurance departments has resulted in an improved work flow and consequent improvements in productivity and quality. For individuals there is a greater awareness and understanding of the whole production process. That, according to Barry Stevenson, has been "the greatest change of all".Since not all supervisors and line managers were comfortable with the new environment, senior management took steps to formulate "a deliberate strategy to provide support for managers to involve them in the restructuring process."
"The level of accountability has changed" says Tony Pusic, Manufacturing Facilitator. There is a feeling of ownership over the process. ... The open communication and the sharing of information has also seen the removal of the "domino effect". Instead of shifting the blame or covering up costly mistakes employees are now aware of the outcome, learning from mistakes made in order to avoid them in future.
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... the differences between management and the shopfloor have been significantly reduced. Greater technical knowledge and skilling up of operators has led to a shift in control over the production process from line management to the shopfloor.
As summed up in the case study, the benefits to MSD of its new approach to training, teamwork culture, and communication are:
- Increased productivity and quality.
- Increased worker flexibility.
- Improved quality control and predictable work flow.
- An improved occupational health and safety record.
- Ability to use down time and idle time for training.
- Better integration of training and HR systems.
- Improved relevance of training.
- Recognition of increased skill acquisition, including problem solving skills.
- Proof of competence.
- Mobility between divisions.
- Better opportunities for situation-specific learning.
- A feeling of responsibility for the production process and ownership of the final product.
- Increased job variety, e.g., the opportunity for operators to take on the role of trainer or performance assessor. (MSD has adopted a performance management system that includes formal assessment of competency self-assessment and assessment by peers, team leaders, and an on-site accredited assessor.)
- Use of state-of-the-art technology that is unavailable elsewhere.
- Improved opportunities for self-development.
- Job and financial security.