June 22, 2005    Volume 12, No. 12

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63,000 People In San Antonio Seek To Fill 2,000 Jobs At Toyota's New Factory


It is much harder to get a production-line job at Toyota than it is to get accepted into Harvard.

Last year, 19,752 people applied for undergraduate admission to Harvard. The university accepted 2,110 students; and 1,638 joined the class of 2008.

Now try to gain a position at Toyota's new assembly plant under construction in San Antonio, Texas. In two weeks, the company received 63,000 applications for 2,000 job openings -- three times more applicants than Harvard receives for a similar number of positions -- and Harvard has the country's lowest acceptance rate among all universities, at about 11 percent.

Toyota was expecting 100,000 applicants for its San Antonio plant, and could have processed 200,000. It received 15,000 applications the first day it opened the process, and shut it down after two weeks. By then, it had plenty of people from which to choose those possessing the personality traits and skillsets it finds most appealing.

Toyota has now created a system to analyze the applicants and is already hiring its first production workers, sending them to plants in Japan and Georgetown, Ky., to learn its famous Toyota Production System. Its San Antonio plant will make Tundra pickup trucks and won't be open until the end of 2006. New production workers are needed now, however, in order for the company to run pilots and trials and to act as mentors as the plant begins to gear up initial production.

"The one thing Toyota is really committed to is giving everybody a fair shot at getting a job," says Matt O'Connell, co-founder of Select International, the company helping Toyota staff its plant in San Antonio. "It didn't matter who you knew; they didn't want to screen a whole bunch of people up front."

Instead, Toyota wanted to generate excitement and support in the local San Antonio community and not have people bad-mouthing the hiring process. "Nobody wants to get screened by a five-minute phone screen where you're really not even talking to anybody," says O'Connell. Toyota intends to hire all of its unskilled production workers from the local labor pool.

Toyota is now in the process of assessing 3,000 applicants per week. It is sending them to six community colleges where they spend four hours filling out online forms and going through an interactive Web-based multi-competency assessment. They are tested on basic math and fourth-grade-equivalent English skills. The San Antonio factory will not be bilingual, so applicants have to be proficient in English.

If an applicant makes it through this screen they go through a full day of interactive assessments including a simulation of an eight-hour work shift on a Toyota production line. Screening is done based on an applicant's ability to do quality work, follow safe work procedures and directions, keep up the pace, come up with ideas to improve a process and complete exercises that determine how well they work on a team. "We have something that would be akin to a personality test and when we bring them inside we can watch them and see how they perform against standards," says O'Connell. If they make it through this assessment, they go into a final interview, background checks and a potential job offer.

Toyota would prefer to hire people with experience working in a manufacturing plant. Not having such experience "wouldn't necessarily knock you out but it may raise a flag for us to pursue some more questions because it can be a big shock for somebody who's never worked in a manufacturing plant," says O'Connell.

What has surprised O'Connell about the applicant pool so far is how few people in the San Antonio area have experience working on a production line. "It's a very heavy service industry area," he says. "This is the first time Toyota has opened a plant in a metropolitan area, which is different from Georgetown, Kentucky, or rural Indiana where people have worked in plants or on farms. You're talking about people who were waiters for the past three years or who worked at WalMart."

Having knowledge of lean business and production systems is not high on Toyota's consideration list when selecting new employees, says O'Connell. Knowing the lean concepts "would mean nothing to Toyota because you're going to come in and you're going to learn the Toyota Way."

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