Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Was Adam Smith Wrong?

Smith famously used the example of pin making to put over his argument that specialization of function improved efficiency. But Sunday's Times suggests this may be wrong, at least in some cases:
Carmakers' Big Idea: Think Small - New York Times: "THE contrast between old and new is even clearer in the way jobs are assigned to workers at the Dundee plant. During their shifts — 10 hours a day, four days a week — workers might be responsible for 18 to 20 spots on the assembly line, rather than be rigidly limited to one narrowly defined task. Indeed, each worker learns every job on the line, reflecting the plant's philosophy of 'anyone, anywhere, anything, anytime.'

The workers, who are U.A.W. members, had to go through a rigorous application and training process, and had to be accepted by plant managers rather than just being assigned by the union. Because they are using an entirely new approach, the managers accepted only two workers from other Chrysler factories. Others came from parts makers or other companies with U.A.W. workers. Despite the intensity, Jimmie Pierce, 36, says the job is a godsend to him. He recently lost his previous job when the Lear Corporation, a parts supplier, closed its plant in Romulus, Mich. In his 12 years there, he said, he stuck to his assigned tasks, even if a problem popped up. 'At Lear, someone else fixes it,' said Mr. Pierce, a second-generation autoworker. At his new job, where he supervises a team of workers, he said that 'you think of yourself more as part of a business.'"

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