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Manufacturers challenged to change; need for quality management increases with global competition.

Reinventing the way business is done is a must for Northern Ontario manufacturing firms if they are going to survive the 1990s - a period some people call the post-industrial revolution.

For many manufacturers survival will depend on replacing confrontation with co-operation between labor and management.

Industrial analysts and management consultants claim that there are great gains to be made from implementing quality management, a system of empowering employees to make decisions and to take responsibility for their work.

"The trick is to get employers to think along modern lines to develop new ways that could be cost-effective and more productive," says Stuart Stelmack, a consultant with Employment and Immigration Canada's industrial adjustment service.

Stelmack recommends that manufacturers implement volunteer labor-management committees to discuss both internal and external changes such as production difficulties, new technology and changing market conditions.

"Individual involvement - getting people to manage change - is very important," he says.

"The workforce has become more educated, so why not tap into that massive brain power? In a way, a company belongs to employees as much as to employers because it provides them with a job."

Merv Lees, the human resources manager for Neelon Casting in Sudbury, believes an informed workforce is a must in order to compete in a globalized marketplace.

Neelon Casting, a manufacturer of power steering and brake parts for General Motors and Chrysler, has been investing in quality management since 1984. The company's strategy is based on the Scanlon Plan which encourages management-employee co-operation as a means to achieve organizational productivity and employee self-fulfillment.

The Scanlon Plan originated during the 1940s and '50s. Its founder was steelworker and union leader Joe Scanlon.

This is how the plan has been implemented by Neelon:

The company has four divisions -- melting, moulding, core making and finishing. The employees are divided into 16 teams, four from each division, which are involved in team oriented problem-solving (TOPS).

Neelon's employees elect representatives who meet weekly with the company's production managers. They meet monthly with management in sessions called screening meetings. These are used to inform employees of the company's financial and quality control performance.

The entire process is reviewed annually by a cross-section of employees who are brought together as an adhoc committee.

Neelon president Bruce Semper says his company is interested in seeing its employees develop as individuals, not become "a body that comes to work and checks his mind at the door."

"We must survive. It's as simple as that," Semper adds, justifying employee empowerment.

Neelon has also invested in new technology to improve its manufacturing processes. It is now investigating the implementation of self-directed work groups to improve worker flexibility.

"It's a new adventure for both of us," says Semper.

Stelmack estimates that there are at least 50 companies in the resource and secondary industry sectors which are working to improve their levels of employee-management co-operation.

However, Dr. John Pliniussen, an associate professor of administrative studies at Nipissing University in North Bay, believes that management-labor co-operation is not being developed as quickly as it could be.

"The bosses have to be ready to relinquish power and take a chance on employees," he says.

Pliniussen believes that many owners and managers require human resource training.

At the same time, he concedes that not all employees favor the empowerment system of management.

"Some (employees) love to be told, others love to have more power," Pliniussen says.

Lees admits that the Scanlon Plan difficult and time-consuming to implement.

"Getting 100-per-cent participation is a challenge. Not everyone wants to be involved," he explains. "You are constantly trying to get information coming up and down."

Semper, however, believes the plan is working for Neelon because the company is successfully competing with American parts suppliers.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Jolly, Maria
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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