Volvo cars Torslanda, Sweden: flexible working practices
Volvo Cars Company (VCC) develops and manufactures motor vehicles. Its subsidiary, Volvo cars Torslanda (VCT) in Gothenburg, Sweden, manufactures almost 38% of VCC’s annual car production. Ford Motor Company has owned VCC since 1999.
VCT is divided into three production areas: the body shop, painting and final assembly. It also includes a service unit, Special Vehicle & Services (SVS), and support functions that are responsible for quality, logistics, economy, personnel, technique, operating security and information.
VCT has around 5,520 employees of whom 74% are men and 26% are women. The average age of production employees is 38 years. The age distribution of production workers is as follows:
- 17.5% are over 50 years;
- 19.3% are 40–49 years;
- 32.9% are 30–39 years;
- 30.3% are 29 years or younger.
Because VCT wants to employ all age groups it has a comprehensive employee programme that includes measures in the fields of flexible work, ergonomics, health and well-being, and skills development. The company has a specific policy to take care of older employees who are not able to cope with the difficult production work.
Around 8,000 production employees are affiliated with a trade union. There is considerable agreement between the company and the trade union regarding work issues and policies.
The original initiative
In the early 1990s the work organisation and work environment at VCT changed. Production processes were automated, workers were organised in self-managed groups and greater efficiency was required. The new environment called for greater expertise and new skills, which many older workers did not have. Instead of letting these workers go, the company took the initiative to redeploy them.
In 1992 the management and human resources (HR) department started the initiative, aimed at taking care of older, long-term employees who had problems with the changed production conditions. It thus focused on offering them alternative tasks. An important feature of this initiative was that the alternative tasks and new areas of work should also contribute to the company’s profitability. Older workers were offered employment in a senior unit, which dealt with services that had been brought in house.
Good practice today
VCT wants to employ all age groups and its HR policies include a number of measures to achieve the aim of greater diversity. It wants to improve ergonomics and to promote teamwork, and it has a programme to improve workers’ skills. Employees can take courses during working hours leading to a compulsory school degree. If they take courses leading to an upper secondary school certificate in their own time, the company offers financial support, for example, for textbooks. VCT also subsidises the cost of workers’ keep-fit activities.
Car manufacturing demands high levels of efficiency and productivity. VCT tries to take care of the older, long-term employees who have problems with the physical workload of the production environment by offering them either a transfer within the regular production environment or different tasks in senior work places. The senior work places, which operate under the SVS service unit, have around 370 employees and a current waiting list of 20 to 30 employees.
Management together with the HR department decide who can transfer to a senior work place. The formal admission requirements are based on age and job tenure. Employees who want to be considered must be at least 50 years old with job tenure of at least 15 years or must have job tenure of at least 25 years, regardless of age. The company tries to find alternative work in the regular production environment for applicants who do not meet the requirements for a senior place. Working tests and assessments of ability to work help determine assignments and match workers to tasks. Most workers are trained when they transfer to the senior work place.
The SVS unit’s areas of operation are:
- cleaning production areas and equipment;
- internal transportation, personnel services and fire prevention;
- environment and waste handling;
- building and repairing;
- adjustments to production material.
The senior unit is self-contained and its work is incorporated into the company’s other activities. It must meet the same budget and profitability demands as other units.
The trade unions actively cooperated in the design and implementation of the initiative and a trade union representative is present at all interviews with applicants for the senior work place. An important part of the initiative is listening to the workers’ needs and to trying to meet them, and employees are encouraged to propose alternative work tasks.
The following are among the benefits of the senior work places initiative:
- greater security for all employees who feel that whatever work disability they might incur, they can continue to work with the company. Workers in the senior unit are also better motivated and the sickness absence rate is thus lower than in other units;
- greater good will for the company and better relationships between management, workers and the trade unions. When several recent rationalisations left some units with more workers than they needed, the company was able to transfer the surplus to the senior unit instead of laying them off.
Economic pressures and cost-cutting measures are a constant threat to the initiative. Because the senior work place’s services are not part of the company’s core activity, the unit is especially vulnerable to cost cutting and outsourcing.
Contact person: Gunnar Johansson, HR manager (email@example.com)