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Electronics firms charged with jobs training

Behind the unthreatening facade of the modern electronics factory a revolution is happening. Old attitudes towards people and their careers are being replaced by ones unrecognisable less than a generation ago. David Ennis is human resources director at OKI in Cumbernauld, and part of an industrywide initiative to develop skills and tap potential in each employee.

"We've got lots of awards, we got the Investors in People award, we gained the best electronics factory in Britain award in 1992, and last year we got the Quality Scotland award. It's the Investors in People award I'm most proud of because it's a good measure of the way we're developing the the company, " says Mr Ennis.

His remit to develop skills extends beyond the Japanese semi-conductor company, as Mr Ennis heads the human resources sub-group of the Scottish Electronic Forum (SEF), an organisation set up to pool resources and ideas in the industry. "The sub-group," Mr Ennis says, "makes sure that the industry has the skill levels to maintain profitable companies in the future. It was set up because we realised there was a problem with skills and we had an indication at the time, that the demands of the electronics industry was not going to be met. We're still struggling to produce the skill base that we need."

Within Mr Ennis's company every employee has the means to develop the skills necessary to advance their career. It is, he says, the only means that OKI and others can stay competitive. "I don't think there's a lack of basic literacy or numeracy. In Scotland we've got a high base level, but we've got to compete with countries such as Taiwan who are overtaking us in terms of basic skills development.

"If you take the educational system, we have developed SVQs, for instance, which can be a tremendous tool. It means people can start at a low level and go up to a very high level of skill. Gone are the days when somebody can come into a company at the lowest level and be doomed to stay there. For example we're now training 25 per cent of the workforce and its done internally."

This continuous process of development for staff can have some remarkable outcomes. One employee who started out in the warehouse is currently studyingfor a MBA while another went from operative, to technician, to team leader and is now heading for senior engineering. "It's going to be a process of lifelong learning and not just within companies. Every individual can expect to have career changes and people need a group of skills to allow them to cope with this change."

Indeed the whole system of employee appraisal at OKI has gone from simple evaluation to one of career development. Rather than being given a rating of one to five, employees receive written suggestions on whether to continue in their present job or whether a move might help them develop with the appropriate training given. As Mr Ennis explains this type of development cannot happen in one company alone and hence the need for the SEF to help achieve industry-wide standards.

"Some 80 per cent of our product cost comes from outside the company. Although we concentrate on OKI, it's only a small part of the total skills that are required to build our products. If we ignore our suppliers we'll get to the position where we'll be growing but this will not be matched by our suppliers. "

Even the role of the humble temp is being reassessed as the electronics industry seeks to fashion a workforce with the adaptability to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Rather than being a means of overcoming short-term exigencies, there are moves afoot to integrate temps into the mainstream workforce.

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