Remote work will broaden talent pool, exec says

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While automakers move heaven and earth to get their manufacturing operations safely up and running and their dealers selling vehicles again, the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic may have also reconfigured the way companies think about recruiting and retaining employees, says the executive who leads Toyota’s manufacturing and human resources in North America.

Chris Reynolds, chief administrative officer, manufacturing and corporate resources for Toyota Motor North America, says the way employees have shown this spring that they can work remotely will reduce geographic limits on recruiting and hiring.

“If we’re now working from home and can do things virtually, do I care whether you’re in Plano, Texas, or Detroit, Mich.? I may not, depending on the job, as long as you can get to Plano periodically to meet with your team,” Reynolds told Automotive News Publisher Jason Stein last week as part of the “Congress Conversations” series.

“I think there’s a lot of potential here, where we can see, not just for Toyota but for many other companies, a broadening of the geographic footprint of our talent, which means more talent, which I think also means better talent. I’m actually looking forward to the upside, which is, I may have access to more talent than I did.”

In the 45-minute conversation, Reynolds, a 2019 Automotive News All-Star and Detroit native, spoke at length about Toyota’s efforts to keep its work force safe as it returns to the production line, research labs and offices after a 10- week or longer absence.

“Our processes have really changed,” Reynolds said. “You may not recognize the plants if you walked in the day before we shut down to today.”

He said work on how best to safely reopen began shortly after Toyota’s plants suspended production, and the process to implement new safety procedures has been deliberate and comprehensive.

“The team members seem to be very understanding and very flexible, knowing that what we’re trying to do is make sure that we have these protocols down, that they are there, they’re well practiced, and that they’re effective. And in order to do that, we all agree that we have to ramp up slowly,” Reynolds explained. “Do we want to go full-bore, all-out right away? Yes. Is that feasible or even advisable? Not at all.”

Reynolds said Toyota is already seeing some return to pre-COVID sales levels on a regional basis and that there is some pent-up demand for new vehicles that will have to be managed to meet customer expectations.

However, whether that demand continues through the rest of the year or is simply a byproduct of the economy’s extended shutdown is unknown.

He also said that while the pandemic remains a serious threat, it is one that companies and their employees can manage with effort.

“We’ve been seeing some signs of hope that this is beginning to ameliorate, and as long as we can show a track record in the auto industry, both with suppliers and in our own factories, of being able to cope and manage, I think we can get through it,” Reynolds said. “But no question, there’s a risk. We just have to look that risk in the eye and do our best to manage it.”

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