Whether you’re piling into an SUV for a family vacation or taking a high-performance sports car for a joy ride, providing a reliable, safe, enjoyable experience is something that companies like JTEKT North America strive for.
JTEKT North America, a division of JTEKT Corporation, is the global leader in engineering and manufacturing automotive systems, bearing solutions, and high-performance machine tools. Approximately one in every four cars globally has a steering system manufactured by JTEKT.
The North American division was founded in 2006, and has grown to over 6,000 employees and 24 facilities across the U.S. With its headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina, JTEKT employs a wide variety of roles across its footprint, from innovation and research to engineering, manufacturing, and distribution.
Donna Baker, JTEKT’s Vice President of North America Shared Services has been in the industry for over 20 years and says JTEKT’s leadership team is one of the most approachable she's ever worked with. “We are a powerhouse in the automotive industry but the way we work is more like a small company, especially with regards to openness in communications, and working together,” she explains.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, many businesses were affected, including JTEKT.
“We manufacture and sell 90% of our products to the automotive sector. So, if you watched the news, you saw very quickly that new car sales tanked. Production was hit severely and quickly. We felt an immediate impact to our business, and we had to make some very difficult decisions around pay cuts and furloughs that impacted our associates and their livelihood, which we never take lightly,” says Baker.
Some of the company’s manufacturing facilities had to shut down completely, however others were deemed essential and continued to operate.
“Although the COVID-19 crisis impacted us all in some way, overall, our team members understood the impact to our business and the decisions that had to be made so that we could minimize the long-term effects,” says Baker. “I can't thank our associates enough for their cooperation, flexibility, and understanding during this time.”
With the pandemic causing so many changes, Baker reflects on the role HR plays within a company: “HR's role has evolved throughout the years and it's evolved during this crisis. If you’re at a corporation where HR wasn't intimately involved in every aspect of the business before, HR had to step up during this crisis. COVID-19 has caused a lot of fear for people both professionally and personally, and HR has needed to react quickly to the rapid changes affecting our team members and connect with them to put their minds at ease.”
Throughout the pandemic, there has been a lot of uncertainty and many questions on employee’s minds. The need for consistent communication and connection is more important than ever, and companies are having to adjust to meet these needs. “Anytime we do an associate survey, everybody says they want more communication. Even though from an employer perspective, you're communicating every possible way that you think you can, people want more communications,” says Baker.
JTEKT has leveraged Dayforce to ensure targeted, relevant communications to its various groups throughout the company. For example, the company has a facility in a region where a government-mandated stay-at-home order was put in place. With Dayforce, Baker and her team were able to send a communication directly to the employees affected by this shut down.
The ability to quickly and easily communicate to employee groups has also been useful in announcing their return to work. “The number one question if you're sitting at home or working remotely is “when do I go back?” We use Dayforce to target specific facilities, lines, or functions to send out those messages,” says Baker.
From an operational perspective, JTEKT has had to be flexible and fast-acting to adjust for the changing circumstances at each of its locations.
“From the beginning, we met daily, sometimes twice daily to document and implement best practices regarding safety precautions. That evolved throughout the crisis and culminated in a safe work playbook,” says Baker. “We made a customized playbook for each facility based on their unique operating environments.”
The company has also adjusted its manufacturing lines, shift schedules, and meal breaks to allow for physical distancing while maintaining consistent production. “If you think about a manufacturing line, it's person to person. So, we've had to come up with creative engineering for separation,” explains Baker. “We're staggering cars coming into the parking lot and performing temperature checks before the person gets out of the car. We're also staggering start and stop times to get people into the facilities smoothly without lines. We're alternating break and lunch schedules so that employees can social distance.”
There are many learnings that can be taken away from this pandemic, and areas where companies can improve upon to be better prepared. “There is a saying that we refer to: ‘Never let a crisis go to waste,’” says Baker. “We looked at the lessons learned, and how we can make ourselves better coming out of it. I think one thing that our industry and our business does very well is we use a PDCA – Plan-Do-Check-Act. We can take this experience and apply lessons learned to help better prepare for what comes in the future.”
As the world progresses forward and adjusts to the “new normal”, JTEKT is also reevaluating its previous way of operating and deciding which changes may be here to stay.
“We were very traditional in our thinking around working remotely – it had not been previously embraced. But what we found is that everyone responded perfectly when the pandemic hit, and we’ve actually seen an increase in productivity and efficiency,” says Baker. “Our traditional mindset says we need to be in one place. But we're thinking now, is this an opportunity to challenge our norms? Do we need to change?”
Not only does working remotely provide flexibility for employees, but it also reduces the company’s costs related to brick-and-mortar locations and employee relocation. “A relocation costs about $40,000, and that cost could instead be put into innovation, research, and moving our company forward competitively versus just having someone sit in our office,” says Baker.
Having flexibility around remote work also gives the company more options for hiring when candidates are not restricted by where they live.
Technology is at the core of these changes, and it is essential that companies build a technological infrastructure that will enable growth and success moving forward. “Technology is our future. Our goal is to continue to automate and equip our organization with technological advancements. We have to do better, not just in our products, but also in the systems that we use. COVID-19 has pointed a clear spotlight on the urgent need for resilience and digital capabilities,” says Baker. “We need accurate data to help make decisions for the company, especially during the pandemic. We’ve challenged our old paradigm and created a new mindset for the future. And with our partnership with Ceridian, we’re able to stay on top of things.”