Adjusting the size of workforce to a fluctuating utilization of production: How does a flexible workforce strategy in a continuous production environment look like?
Particularly when using continuous production, firms are facing major challenges in trying to react to order fluctuations. The purpose of this paper is to present, how a combination of several tools of workforce flexibility can help these firms to cope with fluctuating staff requirements. The research work uses company data to illustrate which parameters to what extend determine the availability and cost of labor can be made adjustable to different levels of manufacturing utilization. Furthermore, it can contribute to a deeper understanding of the design, the potential and the impact of using a flexibility strategy with a coordinated deployment of different tools of workforce flexibility. This paper proposes, that an evaluation matrix for finding suitable tools and the experience of a company in a highly volatile market can help to achieve this. Research was done in the context of a six month attendance period in the controlling and personnel department of a German plant of SOLAR AG. The Action Research work uses real quantitative company data as well as internal qualitative data and specific expertise to provide a proof of concept. Producing photovoltaic modules and cells, the plant is faced with a high level of uncertainty which makes order forecasting difficult. Thus the company is a very suitable case to study. The reload period of working time accounts is a very important parameter as the shift schedules in a continuous production environment are very inflexible. A coordinated strategy involves (temporary) reduction of weekly working hours and working time accounts for permanent staff as well as the use of contingent workers. Tested on the basis of historical production schedules and other company data, this strategy turns out to be more cost efficient than the conventional reaction strategy using the legal tool of reduced working hours (Kurzarbeit). Comparable research work generally investigates the cost efficiency of individual tools of workforce flexibility. Contrary to this, surveys as well as theory suggest to choose a multi-dimensional approach. This empirical work can give an illustration of what prerequisites and consequences a flexibility strategy with a coordinated deployment of different tools of workforce flexibility has for the company.