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Int. J.

of Human Resource Management 17:5 May 2006 842-859


Who gets the job? Recruitment and selection at a 'second-generation' Japanese automotive components transplant in the US

Steven E. Gump
Abstract Literature on Japanese transplant manufacturing firms in the automotive sector often emphasise the importance placed on attitude as opposed to skills in the hiring decisions for line workers. In this paper, a case study of one second-tier components supplier for a major Japanese automotive assembler in the Midwestern United States provides the opinions of senior managers and human resource associates regarding recruitment and selection practices. In-depth interviews, carried out over a two-week period in August 2000, are used to develop an understanding of the recruitment and selection process for line workers as well as to investigate the desired skills and value of previous Japanese experience. Results of the case study analysis are compared with two models from the literature: (I) a model of recruitment and selection at Japanese automotive-related firms in Japan and (2) a model of recruitment and selection at Japanese transplant automotive-related firms abroad. Deviations from the two models point not to a new paradigm of 'second-generation' Japanese transplants - those that have moved into regions quite familiar with Japanese firms and related management and production methods - but rather to overall weaknesses in the stereotypical models. Managerial opinions within the case study firm place limited value on familiarity with a Japanese environment, considering such experience secondary to attitudes and work ethics that are in line with the philosophy of the case study firm. Keywords Japan; automotive transplants in the West; personnel practices; recruitment and selection. Introduction Encouraged, for example, by publication in 1979 of Ezra Vogel's Japan as Number One: Lessons for America, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a flurry of interest in - and research on - Japanese management practices. Scholars such as Abo (1994), Babson (1998), Beechler and Yang (1994), Dedoussis and Littler (1994), Delbridge (1995), Morris et al. (2000), Pil and MacDuffie (1999), Purcell et al. (1999), Taylor (2001) and others have all considered the extent to which Japanese personnel practices can be (and have been) transferred to Japanese firms operating abroad. But what happens to these practices over time? After creating models of recruitment and selection at Japanese automotive firms in Japan and abroad, I describe the recruitment and selection procedures of a second-tier Steven E. Gump, Department of Educationai Organization and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 333 Education Building (MC-708), 1310 South Sixth Street, Champaign, IL 61820-6925, USA (tel: -i-l 217 333 2i55; fax: -I-1 2i7 244 3378; e-maii:
The tnternational Journal of Human Resource Management ISSN 0958-5192 print/ISSN 1466-4399 online © 2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/09585190600640877

Gump: Who gets the job?


Japanese manufacturing firm in the Midwestern United States. 1 analyse the empirical data with respect to the two models in an attempt to understand what over two decades of Japanese presence in the area have done to the 'stereotypicar American worker in the automotive or automotive components industries. Have the criteria for selection at new Japanese transplants become more stringent? Can the newest transplants expect their new employees to be familiar with - or to have previous work experience in - a Japanese manufacturing environment? Although a single case study cannot be used to create a new theoretical model for analysing trends in the evolution and development of recruitment and selection processes, I hope, in a manner suggested by anthropologist David Plath (1983: 12), that this brief survey may point to what would be the main features of such a model. Recruitment and selection practices at Japanese automotive and automotive components firms in Japan In his straightforward yet pioneering 1958 work The Japanese Factory, James Abegglen introduced the West, through the 'first systematic [English-language] study of a factory' (Dore, 1973: 31), to industry in what was then the only non-Western industrialized nation. Ensconced within the culturalist perspective that was de rigueur of his time (Beechler and Yang, 1994), Abegglen set a precedent by emphasizing the large factory in his study and introduced concepts that became known as the widely touted 'three pillars' of Japanese industrial relations: lifetime commitment, seniority wages, and enterprise unionism (see, for example, Koike, 1983: 29; Nakamura and Nitta, 1995: 325).' Although nearly 50 years have passed since its publication, much can be gleaned from Abegglen's book about stereotypical recruitment and selection methods of large, successful Japanese firms. When one continues a survey specifically of automotive and automotive components firms in Japan, it becomes obvious that the industrial frameworks in most instances are quite similar to what was laid down in the Abegglen text. The explanation is simple: Most Japanese automotive plants fall into the category of 'large factories' (the size assessed by Abegglen) and thus prove representative examples of firms offering and attempting to adhere to systems of lifetime commitment, seniority wages, and enterprise unionism. In fact, Abegglen's work, along with works of Robert Cole (1971) and Ronald Dore (1973), has had, arguably, the most far-reaching influence on subsequent research and debate on Japanese employment relations in the English-speaking world (Delbridge, 1998: 6), A careful reading of the Abegglen text reveals a multitude of information on the early post-War Japanese industrial relations system and frames the consideration of recruitment and selection methods in this paper. With the exception of works by writers who are seeking to discredit one or more of the three pillars of Japanese industrial relations, the early works of Cole and Dore, a later work of Whitehill (1991), and additional texts have primarily supported and built upon the structure as introduced nearly half a century ago by Abegglen (see Gump, 2004). As explained by Abegglen, the recruitment and selection process for regular employees - those who would, at least in principle, be employed for life, be they applying for positions as salaried employees or workers paid hourly wages - is rather involved. The intricacies are related to the fact that the majority of Japanese business leaders believe 'employees are their most important assets' (Whitehill, 1991: 128).^ Recruited directly from schools (almost invariably), attitude and character of potential employees are emphasized over skills, with capability being believed to relate to


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education level and relative status of the school attended. (Expressing a commonly shared viewpoint, Abegglen writes that 'education in Japan almost totally determines career choices' [1973: 181].) The typical selection process involves a paper-and-pencil entrance exam, a physical examination, and an all-important interview, often led or attended by high-ranking personnel managers or, occasionally, the company president. Even if a personal connection has been used in some way along the process of introducing the candidate to the firm, background checks of varying degrees are still frequently carried out, largely to verify that the potential recruit has a 'stable' nature that would be likely to conform to the company culture. How, then, does the level of attention paid to the recruitment and selection processes at large firms in Japan transfer to Japanese firms that set up operations abroad? Transferring Japanese recruitment and selection methods abroad: experiences of Japanese automotive-related firms in the West In a review of the literature on the experiences of Japanese transplant firms (Japanese firms that have set up facilities abroad), at least two themes specifically relating to Japanese industrial relations stand out. First, extracting recruitment and selection practices from the Japanese industrial relations system as a whole is a difficult task; and the complexities become more difficult with Japanese firms operating abroad. Second, despite its intricate nature, the so-called Japanese industrial relations system as practiced in Japan seems to be more homogenous - if, indeed, homogeneity can be treated as a relative attribute - than the experiences of Japanese transplant firms abroad. Here I have culled from the case studies some similarities that exist among various transplant firms in the West. The experiences of each company, of course, are different; but the approaches taken toward recruitment and selection can be understood as deriving from the particular mould briefly described in the first section of this paper. Working for the Japanese at Mazda in the US Fucini and Fucini's Working for the Japanese (1990) offers a case study of Mazda, which set up a production facility in Flat Rock, Michigan (near Detroit), in 1984, thus becoming the first Japanese automotive manufacturer to locate so near the historical heartland of the American motor industry.'' When Mazda ran application forms in Detroit-area newspapers in 1985, some 96,500 applications were received for the planned 3,500 positions (1990: I, 5).^* The response was not surprising, given that the unemployment rate in the area hovered around 20 per cent through the 1980s. The challenge, then, was sorting through all the applications to find 'suitable' employees. To determine the potential suitability of applicants, Mazda spared no expense by employing a five-step screening process that required applicants to complete (I) a written application; (2) a two-hour battery of exams covering basic math, reading comprehension, and vision; (3) a 30-minute personal interview; (4) a group problemsolving assessment; and (5) a simulated work exercise. Only the last two stages were carried out at the Mazda site. In contrasting the Mazda recruitment and selection method with that of Americanowned plants, Fucini and Fucini make clear that Mazda was searching for workers with the right personalities (a theme that recurs throughout their book).^ Whereas the Big Three automakers (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors) 'had been interested only in hiring workers to build automobiles', Mazda 'wanted people who could become part of a team' (1990: 2). The fourth stage of the application process, the directed group exercises, was designed to test for this attribute.

Gump: Who gets the joh?


The fifth stage of the Mazda application procedure at Flat Rock, the simuiated work exercise, was undertaken to ensure that applicants had the coordination and endurance needed to be able to buiid cars (Fucini and Fucini, 1990: 54), Such tests, important for applicants with no prior factory experience, support the idea that Mazda's screening process emphasized youth and inexperience (Fucini and Fucini, 1990: 63),^ In Choosing Sides (Parker and Slaughter, 1988), Parker, an experienced electrician who had worked for Chrysier and Ford but who was unsuccessfui as a candidate for a Mazda job, develops his suspicions that prior work experience at a Big Three plant is not a benefit - and perhaps even a detriment - to one's Mazda application, Fucini and Fucini relate Parker's views as follows: Former American autoworkers who were tainted by their past experience would not only have to learn Mazda's new system, they would have to unlearn all of the bad habits that they had acquired at Big Three plants. One thing Parker was certain of was that the Mazda screening process gave laid-off autoworkers no credit for their greatest asset - car-building experience (1990: 64, emphases in original). Elsewhere in the Fucini and Fucini text, other subdued biases (such as those again,st older applicants or minority applicants) in the Mazda screening process come to light (1990: 62), The end result was a young (average age 31), inexperienced (more than 70 per cent of Fiat Rock employees had no prior factory experience), and predominantly male (over 72 per cent) workforce with a smaii minority repre,sentation (1990: 63), But all of the,se workers, now members of the 'Mazda family', had passed the five-stage .screening process and possessed 'what Mazda training literature described as "the will to participate'" (1990: 68-9), By surviving the selection process, these workers were also viewed by Mazda to possess the inteiiigence, interpersonal skills, and physical ability necessary both to fit in to the company culture as well as to succeed in their jobs, US addendum: working for the Japanese at Subaru-Isuzu

Largely taken from her personal experiences as a line worker there, Graham's (1994) treatment of the selection process at Subaru-Isuzu Automotive (SIA) near Lafayette, Indiana, raises four interesting issues either not addressed or oniy briefly sugge,sted by Fucini and Fucini, First, echoing sentiments of both Abeggien and Whitehill, Graham states that SIA's selection process 'focused on eliminating potentiai workers' (1994: 132), Graham describes the various stages of examinations, which were remarkably similar to those at Mazda: a general aptitude test, team problem-solving exercises, a simulated work exercise, and a physicai examination and drug screening (1994: 133), A logistical difference at SIA, however, was that appiicants were interviewed only after passing all of the previous tests. This difference leads to a second issue not addressed by Fucini and Fucini: Where does the power behind the ultimate hiring decision lie? At SIA, the tearn leaders make the ultimate decisions (Graham, 1994: 133); at Mazda in Flat Rock, Fucini and Fucini only insinuate that the consensuai discretionary power faiis higher up in the hierarchy (1990: 72-3), Third, Graham emphasizes how long the selection process takes from personal experience. She was finally hired some six months after beginning her attempts to gain employtnent at SIA (1994: 132), From the perspective of the company, then, the selection process gives 'ample time for selecting what it perceived as the most qualified workers' (1994: 133), Finally, Graham, through discussing the selection process with co-workers, exposes the remarkable finding that 'many workers complied with the perceived terms and


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conditions of employment at SIA by involving themselves in a kind of charade' (1994: 133), Some workers even felt they had been hired because they had 'figured out the process'. They had sometimes appeared unnaturally 'cooperative and enthusiastic when interacting with other applicants during team scenarios' in the selection process, because they felt this was the behaviour the company preferred (1994: 133), Grahatn summarizes the impiications as follows: 'Since it was not necessary that an inherent liking for team participation be part of one's personality, the goal of the process is to select workers who outwardly adapt to management's efforts at structuring behaviour' (1994: 134),'' Additional perspectives on Japanese transplants Although this paper is largely dedicated to a consideration of transplants in the US, the voiume of available English-language scholarship includes a large amount written not only by Americans but also by British, Canadian, and Australian speciaiists. For example, Purcell et al. (1999) found that Japanese manufacturing firms in Austraiia preferred to hire experienced workers, as opposed to workers directiy out of schooi, for factory-floor (gemha) positions. In contrast, however, general comments about Japanese transplants in Britain (offered by Dunning, 1986; Morris et al., 2000) and in Wales (offered by Morris et al., 1993) fit with the image of transplant firms that has come into focus thus far. First, Morris et al. (1993: 79) mention the emphasis placed on attitudes during recruitment at Japanese firms in Wales, an emphasis that appears also at the transplant automotive firms mentioned above. Second, in generai agreement with Dunning, they state that, at least during the 1980s, 'Japanese companies came to have a reputation for recruiting school leavers with no previous work experience, no practicai knowledge of trade union activities, and most importantly, untainted with "bad habits" picked up from working with British companies' (1993: 80), Are not these 'bad habits' that may taint potential Weish workers the same 'bad habits' that Parker mentioned Mazda feared with respect to applicants who had previously worked for a Big Three firm in the US? Neither, as has been demonstrated above, is the emphasis on youth and inexperience anything unique to the situation in Wales, Referring again to automotive transplants in the US, Florida and Kenney (1991: 388) remark that the processes of screenitig and selecting new recruits constitute an 'organizational mechanism' that identifies potential workers 'who possess initiative, who are dedicated to the corporation, who work well in teams, and who will not miss work' (Kenney and Florida, 1993: 109), In other words, the extensive screening processes are carried out 'to identify workers who "fit" the Japanese model' (Florida and Kenney, 1991: 388), But whose understanding of this 'Japanese model' matters? MacDuffie (1988: 17) addresses this question by explaining what he believes to be the true origins of the elaborate recruitment and selection techniques common at Japanese automotive transplants: Most of the transplants, early in their start-up activities, have hired experienced American human resources managers, generally from outside the auto industry, and delegated considerable authority to them. To some degree, the elaborateness of the hiring process at the transplants reflects the perceptions of these managers about the requirements of the Japanese production system ,,, rather than any specific plan of the Japanese management, MacDuffie's research uncovers a further twist: He explains that the complex approach to recruitment used by Japanese transplant firms abroad does not occur in Japan (1988: 16-17), Others, including Rosenbaum and Kariya (1989) and Florida and Kenney (1991), support MacDuffie's claims, MacDuffie's argument suggests that Abegglen's

Gump: Who gels the job?


depiction of all reguiar Japanese workers - both salaried and hourly alike - completing multiple levels of exams and interviews, for example, is anachronistic in contemporary Japan. Even as early as 1979, Clark explained how exams for school recruits (workers who came directly from high school) were gradually dropped 'when it became clear that the company was no longer able to pick and choose' (1979: 157-8).'* The current situation in Japan with respect to school recruits, as Rosenbaum and Kariya (1989) spell out, involves a complex network of linkages between high schools and employers: Teachers from select high schools are requested to match job-seeking students to the needs of the employers. Thus the school system shoulders the burden of ensuring that graduates meet certain standards, and entrance exams given by the firms for geniha positions become unnecessary. When Japanese transplants abroad give entrance exams even to gemha-\eve\ applicants, the suggestion is one of concern over the lack of homogeneity with respect to skills in the local workforce (MacDuffie, 1988: 17). Interesting, then, is how the pattern of recruitment and selection at Japanese transplants resembles more closely the Abegglen-Cole-Dore model presented earlier than what MacDuffie and others have shown to be current practice in Japan with respect to gemha-\eve\ recruitment and selection. Should the Western human resource managers and their understandings of the 'Japanese model' that conform largely to the AbegglenCole-Dore paradigm be blamed for this confusion?'"' Are they simply incorporating what they understand to be necessary 'building blocks for organizations' in order to 'avoid illegitimacy' (Meyer and Rowan, 1977: 345)? The consequences of any discrepancies, however, are minimized when one recognizes that both systems serve a similar function: identifying workers who 'fit' with the company (Florida and Kenney, 1991: 388). Recruitment and selection at a Japanese transplant in the Midwestern US In the first part of this paper, I used the literature to formulate two models of Japanese methods for recruitment and selection: first, as they are practiced in Japan; second, as they are transferred abroad. In this section I provide an in-depth look at the recruitment and selection policies and practices that specifically relate to gembci workers at one firm, pseudonymously renamed Midwest Automotive Parts Production, Inc. (MAPP). I used a combination of ethnographic and clinical research methodologies (a la Schein, 1990: 111) to understand the strategic human resource culture at MAPP. Quotations in the text have been taken from directed interviews carried out during the second and third weeks of August 2000 with the Human Resources (HR) Administrator, the Manager of Administration, the Senior Manufacturing Manager, the Senior Staff Engineer, and the Executive Vice President, all Caucasian Americans. Additional information has come from the Associates' Handbook (an artefact of MAPP's organizational culture that i.s given to all new employees), public relations documents, local newspaper articles, and my experiences from working as a translator at MAPP for six months in 1999. In the final section of this paper, I contrast this empirical material with the two earlier models and also offer a brief consideration of the future of recruitment and selection at Japanese transplants in the US. Situating the case study firm Established in February 1998 with an initial investment of $46.8 million by its Japanese parent firm, MAPP is within a three-hour drive of its main customer, a large Japanese automotive assembler. MAPP is located along the 'transplant corridor' (Kenney and Florida, 1993: 99), an area stretching from southwest Ontario through Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee (and west into Indiana and Illinois). As a second-tier


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transplant supplier of automotive components located near several other Japanese supplier firms, MAPP produces transmission gears in a four-.stage, technologically intensive process involving high-speed computerized numerical control (CNC) equipment with built-in statistical process controls (SPC). Daily shipments of finished gear sets are made in a typically 'just-in-time' fashion to the engine plant in a neighbouring state.'" In the year after the first mass production shipment on 20 July 1999, over 1.2 million gears were sent to the main supplier, with total sales of $14.2 million. In August 2000, daily production requirements, met over the course of two 8-hour shifts, five days per week, were for 1,200 sets of seven different gears. What Oliver and Wilkinson (1992), Florida and Kenney (1991), and others have identified as standard practices at Japanese transplants can be found at MAPP: an open office plan, a common dining hall, no reserved parking spaces, no 'clocking in', and the same company uniforms worn by gemba and non-gemha workers alike. On the production side, total quality management, SPC, kaizen, quality circles, and total preventative maintenance (TPM) are all parts of the daily routine. The expectation, then, is that the organization of employees, personnel management, and recruitment and selection methods are also in line with those of other similar Japanese transplant firms. Charting employee organization and demographics In 2000, MAPP employed a total of 101 associates to meet the daily production requirements. Of these employees, 60 were gemba associates who were paid on an hourly basis and are referred to by the management as 'non-exempt' workers. Salaried associates, on the other hand, are 'exempt'. Classifying associates as either exempt or non-exempt, according to the Manager of Administration, is but one of many ways in which 'Japanese companies try to do away with the barriers between upper management and blue-collar' workers, who, in most situations, are never referred to as 'blue-collar'. Everyone at MAPP is an 'associate'; and the exempt/non-exempt dichotomy is apparently believed to be not as empowering - and, conversely, not as demeaning - as a white/blue-collar classification. (In contrast, the stereotypical 'American' business mobilizes appellative and other linguistic devices to divide clearly the management from the hourly-wage workers.) Most of the 41 non-gemba associates filled positions related to administration, engineering, or quality control. My discussion of recruitment and selection at MAPP, however, specifically focuses on the gemba employees - those whose primary responsibilities are to operate the CNC machinery. Led by the exempt Senior Manufacturing Manager, the 60 non-exempt gemba associates oversee the production process. They 'oversee' it because gear production involves very little hands-on work (with exceptions being the gears that are routinely pulled off the line for manual quality control measuring with gauges and calipers, calibrated in microns - millionths of a meter). Instead, the machines, which are loaded automatically, are arranged so that gears can move from one stage of the production process to the next with minimal human interference. The hands-on work of gemba associates, then, involves the expensive, automated machinery (set-ups, tool changes, and TPM) or intricate measuring tools. Mindless work this is not. The 60 gemba associates working in August 2000 were organized along functional lines into four departments: lathing, tooth cutting and shaving, heat treating, and grinding and meshing. The four departments correspond to the four stages in the production process for transmission gears, beginning with raw forgings before lathing and ending with finished gears after grinding and meshing.

Gump. Who gets the job?


With respect to organization from the perspective of industrial relations, the transplant model is illustrated yet again by the total lack of union involvement at MAPP. The following quotation from the Associates' Handbook (p. 4, under the heading 'Associate Relations') provides the official view on unions:
IMAPP] is commiued to maintaining an associate relations climate which promotes maximum personal development and achievement. We are dedicated to treating all associates fairly and providing good working conditions, competitive wages and benefits, and, above all, the respect that each of us deserves. We also believe in open and direct communications which permit resolution of associate problems in an atmosphere ot mutual trust, responsive to individual circumstances. [MAPP] shall continue its efforts to enhance these objectives. [MAPP] does not believe that our associates would benefit from outside intervention into this relationship. We oppose representation of our associates by a third party. We firmly believe that the best interests of all associates can be served without third-party interference. We greatly value our ability to work with associates individually without their being subjected to burdensome costs, complicated rules, and outside interference.

The strong language that repetitively speaks against third-party representation in the second paragraph must have been deliberately included to minimize any chances of misinterpretation. During my six-month tenure at MAPP in 1999, tnention of unions was never heard in any context - either in the boardroom or out on the factory floor. Of the 60 gemha employees, 11(18 per cent) are females, and 4 (7 per cent) represent racial minority groups. (Two of the 11 women are double-counted among the four minority associates, tneaning only 13 out of the 60, or 22 per cent, are wotnen, nonCaucasians, or both.) The average age of gemha associates is 28 years; the youngest worker is 20. Exactly three-quarters (45 associates) had previously worked in a factory setting before coming to work at MAPP. Of these 45 associates with prior factory experience, exactly one-third (15 associates - one-quarter of the total number oi gemha workers) had previously worked for a Japanese manufacturing firm. After considering the recruitment and selection methods employed by MAPP, I will explore the question of bias toward applicants with previous manufacturing experience at a Japanese firm. Recruiting the getnba associates at MAPP One benefit of using such a young company as MAPP as a case study is that the core adtninistrators 1 interviewed, who had been with the firm since its inception, had detailed (and corresponding) institutional memories. Furthermore, in addition to having drawn up a projected hiring schedule with senior management, MAPP's Manager of Adtninistration had recruited, screened, interviewed, and hired every associate (and knew each one by name). Ameliorated by the small size of the firrn, the sense of intimacy among associates at MAPP reflects well the attitudes expres.sed in the 'Associate Relations' section of the Associates' Handbook, quoted above. Sotne senior managers would credit the workforce for maintaining an atmosphere of and mutual respect. How, then, does MAPP attract such employees, and from where do they come? For the gemha associates, initial advertisements of openings were made in area newspapers in the late sutnmer of 1998. Group Leaders were hired by September (in time for a two-week training trip to the parent cornpany in Japan), and other associates were hired beginning in October and Novernber of that year. Advertisements listed minimum requirements for the positions and briefly described the cotnpany as a future 'manufacturer of high-precision transmission gears for the autotnobile industry'. In addition to placing advertisements in local and, more recently, regional, newspapers.


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MAPP also recruited directly from area schools - the local public university and nearby community and technical colleges. Interestingly, though, there is no minimum educational requirement for gemba associates. Math skills are important, however, and emphasis was placed on these in newspaper advertisements (for example, 'metric system measuring experience desired') as well as in later screening exercises. According to the Manager of Administration, most applications for gemha positions at MAPP come from people who already live in the area. For those who are currently employed at MAPP, the longest one-way commute is 45 minutes by car. According to the Manager of Administration, a 'sizeable number' of applications come from workers at any of several other Japanese companies in the area. 'People who have worked for a Japanese firm generally seem to like working for a Japanese firm and want to stay with a Japanese company', he explained. An investigation into this issue revealed that two of the largest companies in the immediate area where CNC equipment is used are Japaneseowned automotive components firms. When a newspaper advertisement carried in local papers calls for ' 1 - 2 years CNC lathing, milling, or grinding experience', the field is automatically narrowed; and given the demographics and the function of geography within the transplant corridor, workers with the preferred type of CNC experience would most likely have had work experience at a Japanese firm. But why, then, would employees at other Japanese firms want to leave their current companies for gemba positions at MAPP? First, MAPP's compensation is higher than the average of similar manufacturing firms in the area. Second, MAPP offers very competitive benefits. According to the Manager of Administration: 'One of the main reasons we are able to attract and retain workers is because of our pay and benefits. That's how we get most of our floor associates. Sometimes they'll take a pay cut just because of the benefits we offer.' In order to explain why five associates came to MAPP from one particular established Japanese CNC manufacturing firm in the county, the Manager of Administration simply explained that that company had begun requiring its employees to pay for their own health insurance: 'People who are making $13.50 or $14.00 an hour at that firm can drop back to $12.00 [MAPP's entry-level salary] because of the cost of health insurance in the United States - and they'll still come out ahead.' Applications have also come in from people who have been recommended by current associates; the Manager of Administration estimates that as many as 20 per cent of all current gemba associates were recommended through word-of-mouth. Though all attempts are made to ensure that these recruits go through the same process as any other applicant, the Manager of Administration confessed the following:
If we hear of a person by word-of-mouth . . . he or she tends to get hired. But, then again, if you look at the situation, very few people are going to recommend somebody that they want to work with who doesn't have a good attitude or work ethic. If the individual doesn't work out, it reflects badly on the associate who made the initial recommendation.

Selecting the gemba associates at MAPP Once applicants have responded to an advertisement (or heard otherwise about the company) and have sent resumes to MAPP, the HR Administrator looks through the paper applications and cover letters, searching for key words regarding job history and previous experience that would be in line with any known openings. Managers of the four departments of Administration, Engineering, Quality Control, and Manufacturing notify the HR Administrator whenever any particular openings are anticipated. If there are no openings, the HR Administrator passes the applications along to the Administrative

Gump: Who gets the job?


Assistant, who enters key skills or experiences into a computer database and files the applications for reference, after which they are retained for one year. The database is queried when an opening arises, and people who have made applications earlier are always considered along with any who may be applying for specific, advertised openings. The Manager of Administration estimates that about 20 or 25 applications are received for each posted opening. The HR Administrator, responsible for the initial screening, selects five or six applications to bring to the attention of the manager who needs a position filled. The HR Administrator explained a primary focus of his paper screening as follows: One of the main things that I'm always looking at is job history: has this person been jumping around a lot, or has he or she worked for the same company for five plus years? Those are the type of people that we're interested in, basically because of the commitment that we make to the associates as far as training and the benefits that we give them. We want people to be here for a long time; so we want people with that history of staying with a company for a long time. After consulting briefly with the particular manager regarding which candidates to phone for an interview, the HR Administrator conducts an initial screening by phone, verifying information in the application and asking about flexibility - shifts, overtime, weekend work, and switching shifts, if necessary. 'If they say a definitive "no" to any of, then, pretty much, they are no longer a candidate. We have to have their flexibility of being able to work any shift that we require', said the Manager of Administration, when questioned about the HR Administrator's role in the initial screening process. If no major problems are revealed during the phone conversation, an interview is set up at the firm. When candidates arrive for interviews at MAPP, they are greeted by the HR Administrator, who once again conducts an individual pre-screen for a few minutes. 'Now that I've been here long enough', the two-year veteran HR Administrator affirmed: I'm beginning to learn what it is that the managers are looking for in an employee: the types of personalities, backgrounds, work experience But my role in the interviewing process is limited - I don't have a lot of authority in terms of deciding whom to hire. The main things I'm looking for [in a prc-scrccning interview] are whether this person's personality and work ethic will fit with our organization. The managers are the ones who are looking at the specific skills and backgrounds. As the ultimate hiring decisions come down to the responsible manager (into division the new as.sociate would be assigned) and the Manager of Administration, who both follow up the HR Administrator's pre-interview with lengthier interviews of their own, I posed a question to the Senior Manufacturing Manager about what specific attributes he looks for in a candidate. With little hesitation, he answered that applicants need a history of good attendance - 'or they have to have a very good explanation why they do not'. The Senior Staff Engineer echoed the Senior Manufacturing Manager's .sentiments: I do believe that a person, on attendance, is apt to continue to exhibit the same attendance behaviours in subsequent positions People either have a mindset that their jobs are important and they're committed to them and they're going to be there - or they have the mindset that other things are more important in their life; and if they get to work, fine, or if they don't get to work, they can find someplace else to go It's difficult to modify a person's behaviour unless some other outside influence arises. Typically, I've seen that the threat of losing a person's job docs not modify that behaviour process."


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In the interviews with managers following the pre-screen by the HR Administrator, the Manager of Administration described the particular personality traits that he attempts to evaluate: What we're looking for is whether the candidate would fit into [MAPP's] philosophy of an associate. Will they come to work on time? Are they willing to be flexible in their positions for the well being of the company? Will they do something they haven't specifically been hired for if it's in everyone's best interests? We ask questions to try tofindout what types of suggestions they've made in the past to better the places where they've worked .... Those are just some of the major things we try to find out in the interviews. The Senior Staff Engineer also offered a lengthy exposition on the personality traits of ideal applicants, concluding that the 'basic personality trait of how work is approached' is the most important issue to bring to the surface in the interviews. In my continued discussions with the Manager of Administration and the Senior Manufacturing Manager regarding attributes of ideal candidates for entry-level gemha positions, only cursory attention was paid to specific skills, per se. When isolated, though, the preferred competencies for gemha workers include CNC machining experience and familiarity with the metric system (for taking measurements and calibrating equipment). When I initially interviewed the Manager of Administration, I came prepared with a bank of questions about the written exams that were administered between the prescreening interview by the HR Administrator and interviews by the relevant senior managers. Somewhat to my surprise, I found that the exams had been discontinued in April 2000. The Senior Staff Engineer expressed concern over the loss, for he saw the written tests as a chance for the applicants to 'sit down and prove their abilities'. (The General Aptitude Test Battery, a three-hour set of tests covering basic math and reading skills necessary for statistical process control, had previously been administered to all gemha applicants called in for interviews at MAPP.) The Senior Staff Engineer appreciated being able to see how the applicants dealt with subjects they did not particularly like, since 'every day, on the job, there are things we don't like to do that we must do in order to get our jobs done.' Although the Senior Staff Engineer believes there may be a difference in quality of associates hired after the exams were discontinued, the Manager of Administration 'cannot tell that big a difference between those who were examined and those who were not'. A drug test remains part of the selection process but is not administered until after a person is hired. Evaluating previous Japanese experience: disconnected or desired? At the core of the questioning during my interviews, I was looking for any sort of bias that might be exhibited toward applicants with previous work experience at a Japanese firm. Is a labour force where 25 per cent of the gemha associates have previously worked at a Japanese firm out of the ordinary for this region of the US? Considering that MAPP is within the transplant corridor, that most local CNC manufacturing companies are Japanese owned, and that the wages and benefits offered by MAPP are competitive, perhaps such a proportion in the workforce is to be expected. Models in the literature, with their emphases on hiring workers with the right 'attitudes', seem to suggest a positive bias toward workers familiar with a Japanese manufacturing environment. Interview material at MAPP, however, was inconclusive in the identification of any such bias. Although most senior staff in this study admitted that familiarity with a Japanese manufacturing setting was viewed at least neutrally (and typically the familiarity was seen as a benefit), none claimed they would hire an associate on those grounds alone. The Senior Staff Engineer, for example, was perhaps most pessimistic

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about any ideas of bias, downplaying the value of any previous experience and believing that Americans who had never been exposed to the so-called Japanese system could possess the right sorts of personality traits that 'are more important than the type of organization worked at before'. In fact, the Senior Staff Engineer commented at length about the problem of 'inbreeding' that he saw at many Japanese businesses. (He was speaking mainly about managerial positions but often made references to gemba workers as well.) Hiring only associates who had been 'socialized into the Japanese ways of thinking and doing things' would merely perpetuate this inbreeding, which, worst of all, made a company more and more resilient to change over time, he believed. The HR Administrator looked at previous experience more positively and said he definitely questions applicants about any previous Japanese exposure if they had indicated such experience on their resumes. A very pointed question is asked: 'What is your opinion of working at a Japanese company?' The HR Administrator continued: of the time - I'd .say probably as much a.s 90 per cent or better - they'll usually say it has been a positive experience; but then again, considering this i.s a Japanese-owned company, I'd expect them in an interview for a job here to say, 'Yes, 1 love working for the Japanese.' But it's not that big of an issue for me. In terms of hiring considerations, I look at it as part of the person's personality. To the Senior Manufacturing Manager, though, previous Japanese experience is 'definitely a benefit'; yet he would still not hire a person primarily because he or she had experience at a Japanese company. 'I'm looking at the whole person, not isolated aspects', the Senior Manufacturing Manager said. When asked about the differences he has seen between gemba associates who have prior Japanese experience and those who do not, the issue of personality traits rose to the forefront: 'I think the ones who have [worked at a Japanese firm] are a little more relaxed and not as intimidated when they have to communicate with the Japanese. I think it's much easier for them not to be shy.' Finally, the Manager of Administration remained neutral yet spoke of a type of 'cultural shock' that might befall a worker who has never before experienced a Japanese manufacturing environment. Without looking more closely at the local labour market or surveying similar Japanese firms along the transplant corridor, commenting conclusively about the 25 per cent of associates who came to MAPP with previous experience at a Japanese firm is impossible. What is possible, however, given the portrait of the recruitment and selection procedures at MAPP painted empirically in this section, is a comparison with the two models described earlier in order to identify any possible future trends in recruitment and selection for Japanese automotive components suppliers in the transplant corridor. The second generation of Japanese transplants in the US: a new paradigm of recruitment and selection? This section ties together three pictures: (I) the model of Japanese recruitment and selection practices in Japan formulated in the first section, (2) the model of recruitment and selection practices at Japanese transplants abroad created in the second section, and (3) the description of recruitment and selection at the case study firm presented in the third section. A core consideration is the significance of deviations in the MAPP example from the two models presented earlier. I examine such differences in light of views of the Executive Vice President, a 22-year American veteran of the Japanese automotive assembler that is MAPP's major customer.


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A 'second-generation' Japanese transplant has moved into an environment, such as found along the transplant corridor, where Japanese companies are typically well respected and often viewed as model firms in their communities.''^ The nationalistic friction that existed when Mazda moved into Flat Rock two decades ago has largely abated. MAPP, at least, seems to have been welcomed by a regional labour market that was ready and willing for another Japanese firm to locate in its area. 'A lot of times, even on resumes, applicants will put, "I've worked for a Japanese company X number of years'", said MAPP's Manager of Administration, insinuating that working for the Japanese in MAPP's area is considered a noteworthy achievement. As a positive stereotype is a stereotype nonetheless, a consideration of how MAPP's recruitment and selection policies compare with other stereotypes, those of the recruitment and selection models depicted earlier, may help expose the types of systemic adaptations made by small, second-tier transplant components firms, organizations that are frequently overlooked in the literature (Barton and Delbridge, 2004). First, with respect to MAPP's employee organization, the classification of associates as either 'exempt' or 'non-exempt' is almost a direct parallel of the practice in Japan of differentiating salaried staff from hourly workers. In MAPP's case, the salaried staff are labelled 'exempt', and the hourly workers are 'non-exempt'. Though members of both groups receive the same benefits and exercise similar privileges (regarding where to dine, where to park, etc.), the same hierarchy that would distinguish white-collar positions from blue-collar ones clearly places salaried staff (exempt associates) above the hourly workers (non-exempt associates). Second, MAPP's stance toward unions - the opposition of third-party arbiters parallels the transplant model, which is clearly derivative of the Japanese systetn as practiced in Japan. The relevant content quoted above from MAPP's Associates' Handbook, in fact, is quite similar to a complementary passage from the employee handbook at Nissan (Tennessee), quoted in Kenney and Florida (1993: 113). Third, and also true to form for the transplant model, is the emphasis placed on attitudes over skills when screening candidates for gemba positions. All managers mentioned, in some form, the need for a 'fit' with the MAPP philosophy. Schein (1990: 115) comments on the relationship of organizational cultural 'fit' to socialization as follows: 'The socialization process really begins with recruitment and selection in that the organization is likely to look for new members who already have the "right" set of assumptions, beliefs, and values.' At MAPP, however, no evidence of bias in the screening process against applicants who have been members of unions can be found (see Kenney and Florida, 1993: 136). Likewise, management supports the hiring of female and minority associates both to comply with Equal Opportunity regulations as well as to diversify the workforce at MAPP. The average gemba worker at MAPP, at 28 years old, is even younger than the average worker at Mazda's Flat Rock facility (who is 31). Fourth, the overall recruitment strategies practiced at MAPP are in line with the transplant model. Newspapers, though just recently becoming an acceptable means for canvassing for applicants in Japan, are the preferred mode for advertising positions; area schools are contacted for recent graduate recruits; and word-of-mouth referrals also result in many posts being filled. Like the larger automotive assemblers described in the second section, MAPP enjoys an application-to-opening ratio of around 20:1; but whether more than one out of each score would be qualified for a position remains unknown. Turning to systemic deviations, MAPP's application and selection processes are much less involved than those of the Japanese or Japanese transplant models. The differences in this arena highlight a problem in comparing small, second-tier components firms with the giant automotive transplants. Although the literature emphasizes the long and often

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drawn-out, multi-stage application and selection processes used by the Japanese transplant automotive assemblers, the MAPP case provides a model of economy. Especially since the termination of the three-hour written assessments, the whole of the pre-screening interview with the HR Administrator, an interview with the interested manager, and a third interview with the Manager of Administration or another senior manager can easily be completed in one morning or afternoon. Offers of positions are typically made by telephone after the final decisions have been made, usually within a few days after the interviews. The discontinuation of written exams for gemba positions reverts more closely to contemporary Japanese practice, where such tests have recently been reserved for applicants to salaried staff positions. At the same time, removing the exams expresses (perhaps undue) confidence in the American education system. But if a sizeable enough portion of applicants has already worked for a company, the expenditure on re-examining these candidates for positions at MAPP could be written off as unnecessary. Is the abandoning of written exams, then, an evolutionary marker of a second-generation Japanese transplant? As new transplants start siphoning workers from established Japanese firms in their areas (MAPP has attracted workers from five Japanese transplants within a 30-mile radius), do the entrance barriers become simplified, with previous Japanese experience providing the necessary nod to proceed to the interview stage? If one Japanese firm found a candidate's personality to be acceptable, would not he or she fit in at other Japanese companies just as well? However appealing these suggestions may sound, the MAPP case study does not support such developments but rather suggests that such assumptions would point to misapplications of the Japanese model. MAPP's Executive Vice President, in fact, cautions greatly against the overvaluing of Japanese experience when selecting new recruits. In a comment that nullifies the value placed on generalized models, he maintains that 'just like American companies, Japanese companies are different Because a company is Japanese certainly doesn't mean that its management style is identical to all other Japanese companies.' The Executive Vice President estimates that only 50 per cent of someone's experiences at one Japanese firm would be relevant at another firm: 'Some things will be very easy for someone with Japanese exposure to adapt to because of that background. But the other 50 per cent will depend on the unique culture of the Japanese company.' This culture depends on the personalities of the senior staff and managers and is not easily stereotyped, despite extensive literature suggesting the contrary. To take but one revealing example of how second-tier transplants differ, consider the Executive Vice President's commentary on lifetime employment. Here is a fascinating remnant of the paternalistic Japanese model that has made its way to a firm in the Midwestern US. The transplant model would suggest, for a firm of MAPP's size and position near the bottom of the supply chain, that such a stance is extraordinary. According to the Executive Vice President: In working for a company, it's like you're raising a family ... and when you hire somebody, you're hiring his or her family as well The number one job of management is to make sure that when you hire somebody, he or she has a job to eome to every day for the rest of his or her life - or you shouldn't hire that person. It's easier said than done these If lifetitne employment a la the Abegglen-Cole-Dore tnodel is actually practiced at MAPP, the example of MAPP would be of interest to Kendall (1984) and Levine (1983; 1989), who re.serve such practices as lifetime employment for only a select few of the largest Japanese cotnpanies, none of which would fall into the sub-contracting sector.


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Thus, even though MAPP upheld the transplant model in certain areas (organization of the employees, an emphasis on attitude over skills in interviews), other realms yielded unanticipated findings (a comparatively uninvolved selection process, a philosophy of lifetime employment). Like any company, MAPP has its own idiosyncrasies. Were a new paradigm based solely on MAPP to be introduced, then, such a model would most likely have limited application. Although the results of this study may prove inconclusive regarding a new pattern for Japanese automotive components transplants, the details certainly reveal that much of interest to the researcher is occurring at such firms. In this investigation, then, I have ultimately questioned the accountability of stereotypical systems models. At the same time, however, the value of such models for creating frameworks for formulating and analysing a case study such as the one presented in this paper cannot be overlooked.

Notes 1 Shimada employ.s a cultural allusion by referring to these characteristics as the 'Three Sacred Treasures' of Japanese industrial relations (1985; 44); and Aoki refers to them as the 'three sacred tools' that 'allegedly harmonize industrial relations and elicit employee cooperation' in Japan (1984: 4). Takezawa et al. (1982: 162) point out that the 'three pillars of industrial relations' became widely recognized from the late 1960s to the latter half of the 1970s; the three were mentioned in reports of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as early as 1972. 2 Perhaps past-tense verbs would be more appropriate in this sentence. Hanami (2004), for example, questions the value and relevance of lifetime employment in contemporary Japan. 3 For another useful description of the Flat Rock case, see Babson (1998). 4 Such high numbers of applications - ordinarily 30 to 100 for each job opening - are typical for transplants in North America (Rinehart et al., 1997: 33). 5 See, inter alia, p. 19 of the Fucini and Fucini text (on Bill Judson, Flat Rock's United Auto Workers representative) and p. 45 (on Denny Pawley, the highest-ranking American at the Flat Rock plant). Judson, for example, was chosen to work with Mazda because of hi.s 'eventempered character' and 'stability' (Fucini and Fucini. 1990: 19), precisely what Japanese firms in Japan look for in their candidates, according to the model suggested by Abegglen. 6 The same can be said for Honda's Marysville plant (which, in 1982, beeame the first Japanese automobile facility to open in the US), where 'few associates - even managers - had seen a car plant before the company hired them' (Toy et al., 1988: 37). 7 Bacon and BIyton (2005) contrast managerial and employee views in considering the extent to which team working can be interpreted as a method for enforcing employee compliance. 8 However, Clark (1979: 158) maintains that a more complex system involving exams and interviews was retained for university graduates in Japan. 9 Milkman, who surveyed 66 Japanese-owned, non-automotive manufacturing plants in California in 1989, found that the US-trained managers 'do not conform to the "Japanese" model' but rather use 'standard' human resource techniques (1992: 151). Whereas the typically US-trained human resource managers at automotive transplants practice recruitment and selection along what they believe to be '' lines, those at US transplants outside the automobile industry are doing 'as the Americans' (1992: 151). This trend implies that the suggestion by Takezawa etal. (1982: 140) regarding the uniqueness of the Japanese automobile industry may be relevant to the question of the transferability of Japanese industrial relations abroad. 10 Yet, perhaps because the company is still young - or perhaps to provide safety buffers - the process more closely resembles 'internal JIT' (Delbridge, 1995: x) in that there are larger-thannecessary stockpiles of raw materials and finished goods at the beginning and end of the production proeess. 11 At least two interesting reasons why attendance may be stressed when selecting recruits to work at Japanese manufacturing firms can be described. First, if the firm is operating a strict just-in-

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time system with all waste eliminated, there is no spare lahour: everyone is needed in order to keep the production going. This approach was suggested by MAPP's Senior Manufacturing Manager. Second, though, is that attitudes may serve as proxies as to how work is perceived. This nuance was suggested by MAPP's Senior Staff Engineer, who perceived a direct link between an individual's attendance and work ethic. 12 With respect to a large automotive assembler, see Kenney and Florida's description of Toyota's attempts at 'welfare corporatism' in Georgetown, Kentucky (1993: 291-5). Regarding the .same plant, see also Mishina (1998). 13 When questioned about the sources of such philosophies, the Executive Vice President confes.sed that he had worked within the Japanese ranks for 22 years; and although he spent the first 12 years of his working career at an American firm, the latter experiences had influenced his management style more deeply.

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