Human Resources at Toyota

With Respect for Humanity, bowdlerized as “Respect for People,” made into a pillar of The Toyota Way, you might expect Toyota’s Human Resources (HR) policies to be studied, scrutinized, discusses extensively in the Lean literature, and argued over in numerous forums. But it’s not the case.

Over the years, I have picked up some information about Toyota’s HR practices, and decided to crowd-source an update by starting a discussion on this topic in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn, by posting the following 3 days ago:

I would like confirmation or corrections from this group on some of the key points as I currently perceive them:

  1. Toyota hires permanent employees for careers, supplementing them with temps. Assuming this is still the policy, how does it apply to non-Japanese employees both in Japan and elsewhere? How does it apply to women, in Japan and elsewhere? Is the ratio of permanent employees to temps changing?
  2. Toyota recruits at the highest level of education possible and, at least in the US, has people with college degrees working as assembly line operators. I got this information about the Kentucky plant. Is it still true there? Is it true elsewhere?
  3. Initial training is done with materials provided by Toyota’s GPC, and includes the use of lego-style simulation games. Training on production processes is mostly on the job, by team leaders and experienced operators. To what extent and in what form is TWI still used?
  4. There is career planning for all permanent employees, including shop floor operators. This includes reviews twice a year, both on technical and managerial skills. Employees are given road maps to realize their ambitions within the company, including what training to get and which jobs to rotate through.
  5. Operators are expected, over time, to master all the jobs in their department. Progress is tracked on a posted skills matrix, and wages have a component of “pay-for-ability” that recognizes the acquisition of skills.
  6. Many members of the professional staff are rotated through different departments for multi-year stints as preparation for general management roles. Only the Human Resources department itself is excluded from these rotations. There are rotations between, say, design engineering and production control but not in and out of HR.
  7. There is about 1 HR person for every 50 employees, which is a much higher ratio than in most American companies. I saw a figure of 1 for every 74 employees at GM, but it was a while back.

The sole respondent so far is Helen Jackson, an alumna from Toyota in the UK, who worked there in Training for 9 years. Toyota’s HR policies may include local accommodations in every country, but this is first-hand information on what they are in the UK:

I have been out of Toyota UK for around 10 years, but still in touch with people there, so will use my own knowledge and what has changed as much as I can:

  1.  Non-team member employees tend to be permanent. Initially, Team Members were all permanent, but now there is a combination, with many temps moving onto permanent contracts. This was done initially during a period of very rapid expansion.

  2.  In the UK the emphasis is very much on cultural fit and an appropriate level of education, ie specialist roles like engineer, planning, hr having degree, maintenance having an apprentice qualification, and so on. The UK did much of the training for France and Czech when those plants started: the French model was very much like the UK, but Czech had a good percentage of people to degree level as line Team Members.

  3.  Initial training covers a good understanding of TPS, and process training used to take place on line, but there is now a custom built training line. Members learn the basics there before going onto process to get speed. Job instruction (TWI) is followed.

  4. There is career planning for all permanent members, including twice yearly reviews. These include role specific skills, teamwork, and kaizen. There is an expectation that members will take on “window” roles in their team where they take the lead on a subject or project with the support of their leader.

  5. Team members rotate through roles in the team with progress posted on a skills matrix. This is as much about health (reduces RSI) as gaining skills, and is more a reflection of the Team and Group Leader than the Member. I am not aware of any additional payment for acquisition of skills in the UK.

  6. Members of staff rotate through different departments and divisions, where this is appropriate and they have a desire to do so. In the UK we have looked at how to provide depth and stretch to individuals who are experts in their field and have no wish to be rotated or promoted – it is better to that than risk losing good people. We do have rotations in and out of HR.

  7. At the time that I left, there was 1 HR person for every 70 employee, which is still a high ratio.

Thanks, Helen! I hope to hear more from other current or former Toyota team members in other parts of the world.