NOTE: On Tuesday, March 29th, WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert was able to experience some of the training given to GM line workers. These are some of his impressions.
The experience offered those of us who cover the auto industry each day a unique perspective. What’s it like to work on an assembly line?
Our opportunity was just a simulation, but it’s more than most people get. It’s a condensed version of the one day course that General Motors is giving employees who will soon start building small cars at the Orion assembly plant.
We started with a briefing, and an outline of our goals. Safety first, but quickly followed by productivity and quality. And this is done by standardization. A lot of standardization.
You’re divided into teams, and you get input in how to design your job. But, once the job is designed, you have little flexibility. You do the same task the same way, again and again.
The point is to find the best way to do things, and do it consistently. And you can’t argue with the fact that it’s paid off.
But it takes a certain type of person to do this.
Even in our small exercise, you always felt the pressure of the line speed. Only my pride was at stake. But, you can see the pressure if you’re job is at stake.
I got my task down to a routine fairly quickly. But, still there were areas when I had to stop and think. That slowed down the whole process.
Fatigue and hunger play into the process. Around noon, as we were approaching lunchtime, I could feel my concentration start to slip. That could mean errors, and it could certainly slow you down.
You have scheduled breaks. So, no jumping up to get a cup of coffee, or run to the bathroom. You don’t even have time to pick up some of the things you may drop.
Teamwork is very important. I can see how one poor performer could drag down an entire team. You have to depend on each other.
You come away understanding that this is skilled labor. You may be doing the same thing over and over again. But, you need to maintain focus. You need to do it right, and you need to be consistant.