An investigation into adoption of multiskilling by the South African manufacturing industry : a case study of Hulett Aluminium.
There are a number of challenges that are facing the South African manufacturing industry today. Companies within this sector are trying all they can to ensure the optimal utilisation of physical and human resources and the maximisation of profit, all this at a very minimal possible cost. Each company within the industry is struggling for a competitive edge and bigger market share compared to other companies manufacturing the same product. Haas et al. (2005: 1) suggest that the manufacturing companies need more flexible labour strategies, like multiskilling, as a way of dealing with these challenges. Hulett Aluminium (Pty) Ltd, South Africa's largest aluminium producer and based in Pietermaritzburg, was used by the researcher as a case study. The company was founded in 1946 as a subsidiary of the international Alcan Aluminium Group. It is South Africa's largest manufacturer of semi-fabricated and finished aluminium products. The company introduced multiskilling in 2000, the main objective being to equip the employees with a variety of skills for the benefit of both the company and the employees themselves. This research study was undertaken to establish the extent to which Hulett Aluminium (Pty) Ltd has taken advantage of the theoretical benefits associated with multiskilling. To achieve this the following issues were investigated: preparation of a suitable environment for the application of multiskilling, effects of new, advanced technology on multiskilling, effects of absenteeism due to workshops, training programmes and personal matters, productivity levels, labour turnover, labour costs, trend towards selfmanaged groups, job satisfaction , employee motivation and industrial conflicts. This study first discussed the theoretical perspectives on multiskilling. This is followed by the description of Hulett Aluminium (Pty) Ltd, with specific description of the company's profile, the organisational structure, the aluminium supply chain and the company's core business . The description of the company is followed by the methodology used for the collection of data as well as the outline of the interpretation procedures followed. Research findings and discussion are also given. The key findings of this study are that both managers and shop floor employees at Hulett Aluminium agree that multiskilling contributes to increased organisational labour productivity, reduced organisational overall costs, and reduced industrial conflicts. Other areas of agreement include the fact that multiskilled employees need appropriate resources for the application of their skills; training is an essential tool for multiskilling and that rewards for a multiskilled workforce are a motivating factor for in the workplace. The final conclusion drawn is that much as Hulett Aluminium (Pty) Ltd has embraced multiskilling, there is still a lot the company needs to do or improve on, so that it could enjoy the benefits of the programme. Based on the findings of this study, some of the recommendations made for Hulett Aluminium are: • A detailed planning process for proper implementation ofmuItiskilling • All the relevant stakeholders within the company should be part and parcel of the implementation of the programme • Benchmarking with other manufacturing companies which have implemented multiskilling • Training of new recruits so that they could be at equal par with the old employees and also contribute positively to increased organisational productivity. 11