Putting the ‘‘U’’ in productivity

Bernard Molloy, ‘Logistician of the Year’ and global industrial director at Unipart Logistics, outlines the three key steps to greater productivity.

Indications are that there is a yawning ‘productivity gap’ between Britain and other G7 nations, the largest since estimates began in 1991.

Bernard Molloy, global industrial director, Unipart
Bernard Molloy, global industrial director, Unipart.

Figures released in September by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in 2014 output per hour for UK workers fell 20% below the average of other leading industrialised nations, and that France, Germany and the US all bettered the UK by 32 – 33 percentage points.

Employment in the UK may be at a record high, but if our goods and services are to remain competitive, and sustainably so, then output for each hour worked must go up.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has proclaimed that raising productivity is the challenge of our lifetime.

However, the Chancellor’s announcement in the Summer Budget to introduce a ‘national living wage’ of £7.20 per hour for workers aged over 25 from next April has raised concerns over productivity for many businesses running warehouses and logistics operations.

If manufacturers, retailers and logistics companies are to meet these future challenges then it will be imperative that they take three key steps to boost productivity by improving ‘employee engagement’, adopting lean practices and stimulating innovation.

In seeking examples of ‘best practice’, the automotive industry is recognised as one of the most productive in the UK.

The Unipart Value Set has been in place since 1987, forming the basis of our culture and is reflected in The Unipart Way
The Unipart Value Set has been in place since 1987, forming the basis of its culture and is reflected in The Unipart Way.

The Deputy Governor of the Bank of England in a speech to the Automotive Fellowship International, of which Unipart Group’s Chairman, John Neill, is President, said: “If productivity in the UK economy as a whole had grown in the same way as in the car industry, and employment generally had grown as it did, the economy would now be 30% or £1/2 trillion larger.”

As a logistics services company with its origins deep-rooted in the ‘lean’ engineering and manufacturing disciplines of the automotive sector, Unipart Logistics has for many years realised the importance of engaging and developing our people.

Seeking ways to improve productivity is built into Unipart’s DNA, a factor that plays a large part in why the company is now responsible for running the supply chains of some of the world’s most valuable brands.

The Unipart Value Set has been in place since 1987, forming the basis of our culture and is reflected in The Unipart Way, our philosophy of working, which engages and empowers employees at every level of our organisation to identify and remove waste from processes, and continually improve the business.

Much of this ingrained focus on productivity is down to a practical approach to problem solving and the tools available through the Unipart “U”: a shop floor university where employees learn to analyse and resolve problems that stand in the way of them doing their jobs more efficiently.

Unipart Logistics LinkThese techniques have not only been implemented in the company’s global automotive manufacturing, supply chain and logistics businesses, but they have also been adopted by blue-chip clients including National Grid, Shell and HM Revenue & Customs.

The Unipart Group is now extending this shop floor faculty approach to the training of young engineers.

Working in partnership with Coventry University, through the Institute of Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, students will learn theory in the classroom and step out into Unipart’s components factory to apply it practically – making it similar to the Unipart “U”, but with a focus on skills as well as lean processes.

If British companies are to close the productivity gap, then employee engagement, lean practices and innovation must become the focus of attention.

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