The revival of the ailing Halewood car plant on Merseyside
has been likened to a blood transfusion, replacing the corporate blue of Ford
with the green of Jaguar. Guy Sheppard discovers how training helped deliver
For motorists, buying a Jaguar is a leap which many will aspire to. For the
manufacturer, switching from a mass-produced car to a prestigious marque like
Jaguar represents a huge change in company culture and working practices.
Most of the Halewood plant on Merseyside was stripped bare last year when
production of the Ford Escort was replaced by Jaguar’s new X-Type. The new
manufacturing facilities cost £300m, but the transformation among the
3,000-strong workforce was equally far-reaching, with each employee receiving
an average of 350 hours of re-training.
With the Escort’s fast-moving assembly line, tasks assigned to each
individual would often only take a few seconds to complete.
Under Jaguar, because of the new vehicle’s relative complexity, the tasks
take much longer and require far greater skills.
Phil Round, Halewood education and training manager, says the X-Type
contains sophisticated technologies such as fibre optics and satellite
"For auto electricians, for example, we had to move a group of people
from very basic electronics to rocket science. With the Escort, it was
relatively straightforward and people could manage with a basic set of tools.
With the Jaguar, a more common tool would be a laptop for diagnostics."
Workers have had to adopt far higher standards of workmanship and learn new
skills to meet the waste-free, low-inventory requirements of "lean
manufacturing" that Jaguar insists on. "In the past, you could leave
your brain at the door, do your eight hours and then go home," Round says.
The task of training the workforce for this more exacting environment was
made all the more daunting by Halewood’s past record.
Productivity levels were low compared to Ford plants elsewhere in Europe and
in the mid-1990s the plant was earmarked for closure. Although largely strike
free, industrial relations were far from harmonious.
Halewood’s operations manager David Hudson, who was transferred from
Jaguar’s West Midland headquarters, says relations were characterised by a
"them and us" attitude.
"We had to get rid of outmoded practices and persuade people to adopt
more flexible working patterns, with the emphasis on delivering quality.
"Even more fundamentally, we had to get the workforce on side. We also
had to overcome some understandable scepticism and convince them we were
serious about delivering change," he says.
One of the main planks of the training programme was, therefore, to create a
more open and participative working environment.
Tony Woodley, national automotive secretary for the Transport & General
Workers Union, which led the joint union campaign to save the plant, says the
changes were too quick and unpalatable for some.
"It would be dishonest to say there hasn’t been some pain," he
says. "Employees were asked to buy into a new world and many hundreds were
not prepared to do that and left."
The changes in working practices at Halewood were achieved in 18 months,
whereas in the West Midlands, similar changes were negotiated with Jaguar over
three wage agreements.
The transition from Ford to Jaguar is described internally as a blood
transfusion, replacing Ford’s corporate blue with Jaguar’s green.
The process began in late 1998 after Halewood was announced as the production
site for the new "baby" Jaguar, and the manufacturer’s management
took over the running of the plant.
Within a year, the Escort became Ford’s most improved product in Europe.
Halewood employees began working alongside Jaguar engineers in the West
Midlands to prepare the X-Type for production.
In the old days, the first time employees were familiarised with a new model
was three months before "job one" – when the plant begins producing
for customers. "Nine times out of 10, it didn’t work," says Round.
The longer lead-in time allowed shopfloor workers to help decide how the
vehicle could be built most efficiently. There is an immense amount of
experience and skills from the Ford days and that, coupled with Jaguar
engineering expertise, ensures the car is easy and safe to build," says
A seven-strong core training team was set up to deal with all aspects of
training at Halewood. Weekly training meetings were attended by Hudson’s deputy
and a training team member went to any launch planning meetings where there
were implications for training. Each member of the core team was given specific
areas of responsibility within the plant and liaised regularly with their
opposite number in the West Midlands.
To meet the new requirements of Jaguar, management concentrated on three
areas: quality, centres of excellence and culture change. To improve quality,
the workforce had to adopt the standards that were already established in the
company’s existing plants.
As well as making individuals more responsible for the standard of their
work, they were reorganised into groups of six or seven, half their former
"We have empowered the group leaders to deal directly with the
engineers and the suppliers," says Round.
Almost every employee visited Jaguar’s other plants and around 500 spent
three months there absorbing its working techniques and culture as well as
developing efficient processes for building the new cars. Some went as
"product coaches" so they could pass these on to the Halewood workforce.
The centres of excellence were set up to introduce new working practices in
a gradual, controlled manner because it was felt that establishing uniform
performance standards at a plant the size of Halewood was simply too vast a
task to tackle all at once.
Round says, "Areas of the plant were set up so people could actually
see what was going to be expected of them. In any change situation, it’s
important to show people at the earliest opportunity the new state you are
trying to get to."
Senn-Delaney Leadership, an international consultancy, masterminded the
shift in culture that was needed. John Clayton, European managing director,
says his initial impression was of a "dark, dirty, loud and
negative-thinking place in all directions".
He adds, "Different areas distrusted each other and people did not want
to be working there.
"We did focus groups, primarily with non-management people. That gave
us clarity in what was causing it to be such an unhealthy culture. So much of
it was to do with history with everybody looking through old filters."
Three-day workshops were run for management and union leaders and then a
two-day version was rolled out to the rest of the workforce.
Clayton says, "We don’t consider ourselves trainers. The workshop has
an experiential format with activities designed to catch yourself being
The next step was to focus on how behaviour needed to change to create a
high-performance environment with teamwork, mutual respect and accountability
among the areas covered. Clayton attributes much of the success of the
workshops to operations manager Hudson’s willingness to discuss these ideas
with each group. "He was scheduled to be there for half an hour and
sometimes he would be there an hour and a half later."
Ten people from across the workforce, including four who were hourly paid,
were trained by the consultancy to run the workshops.
"Normally, we go for people with public speaking and presentation
experience to do this," says Clayton. "But it carried so much more
weight coming from these people. If I had done it, they would have said, ‘Who
is this American guy and what does he know about working here?’."
More facilitators were trained to run another round of workshops that looked
at how the new, smaller assembly teams could put the principles of continuous
improvement into practice. "If you are working with a small team, it’s so
valuable if you’re prepared to talk to other members about what they are doing
well or how they could do things more effectively," says Clayton.
The most critical phase of the transformation was immediately after Escort
production ceased in July 2000. With an eight-week gap before production of the
new model started, a wide-ranging training programme was adopted for most of
the workforce. It was devised to emphasise the difference between building a
high volume car and an upmarket one like the X-Type.
Nearly 900 employees spent 10 days at a local college developing foundation
skills such as literacy, numeracy and computing. These were all relevant to
meeting the requirements of lean manufacturing where working practices are
standardised to cut out waste and achieve consistently high quality.
Round says, "If you had gone down the assembly line in the heyday of
the Escort, you would not have seen it because there was so much stock about.
The concept of lean manufacturing is actually based on doing things less; you
economise on the lay-out and the stock you use."
A week was devoted to lean manufacturing issues led by plant supervisors and
group leaders who had been trained to coach hourly paid employees.
Time was also devoted to discussing Jaguar’s heritage and the competition it
faced around the world. An entire week was spent on 19 projects to benefit the
local community, ranging from clearing gardens on a run-down council estate to
building a Chinese garden in a local primary school.
Round says there were two main spin-offs from this work – underlining
Jaguar’s involvement and commitment to the local community and bonding the new
working teams together.
It also helped break up time spent in the classroom. "We were conscious
of the fact we did not want to sit them down in a classroom and bombard them
with facts week after week," he says.
"We had an individual training plan for every employee group, and that
meant a lot of juggling to fit in all the visits to colleges, visits to Jaguar
and classroom teaching at Halewood."
The final phase of the training programme lasted until February when
production for customers began.
The time was used to fine-tune the production processes and ensure that all
the theory learned in the previous months was being put into practice. This
involved assessing each person’s ability to carry out specific tasks related to
the training given. Candidates who failed to achieve the minimum standard were
singled out for further training.
This procedure now forms part of a twice-yearly assessment of career and
training needs which supervisors carry out with every shopfloor operative.
Halewood is currently producing 400 cars a day and is on target to reach the
eventual output target of 100,000 a year.
According to Round, training colleagues from the West Midlands say Halewood
already mirrors the standards and procedures established in their plants. In
July, the plant achieved Investors in People status.
His tip for anybody else attempting such an ambitious transformation project
is to keep in mind the big picture – his team’s mission statement is to provide
the workforce "with the necessary competences to safely build the best
quality vehicles in the world".
He also says it is necessary to establish what skills and qualities the
employees have got and ask whether they will be sufficient for any new demands
they will face.
"Very often, people resist change not because they don’t want to, but
because they lack the skills and qualities that are needed," he says.