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Case Study: A Comprehensive Talent Management Strategy in Asia Pacific

Ford is no stranger to Asia Pacific and our history in the region runs long and deep. We sold Model As in Japan and India as early as 1905 and 1907, respectively, and Model Ts in China in 1913. In 1929 in Yokohama, Japan, we opened what was at the time considered a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, boasting Asia’s first moving assembly line.

But today’s expansion in the region is unprecedented. Starting around five years ago, we saw the huge potential for growth in Asia and began an extraordinary ramp-up of new manufacturing facilities, especially in China, India and Thailand, to meet consumer demand for our vehicles.

But how do you build the pipeline of talented people necessary to run and manage operations that seemed to be exploding virtually overnight? You start with a comprehensive talent strategy that focuses on acquisition, retention and engagement – with a bit of lending on the side.

Kamali Rajesh, who has been with Ford for more than 13 years, took on the role of head of recruitment and learning and development for Asia Pacific in 2011 when Ford’s expansion was firmly accelerating. Establishing a thorough strategy was imperative for our company to achieve our predicted 70 percent growth in the region over a decade – much of it in China.

“You can’t accomplish your growth strategies if you don’t have the people to back it up,” Rajesh says. “We needed to develop a comprehensive talent strategy to support the business to deliver the growth.”

Keep in mind that we’ve been hiring between 1,000 and 1,500 salaried employees each year in Asia Pacific for the past two to three years. That’s a lot of talent to attract, develop and retain.

The stakes were – and still are – high. In China in particular, the environment for talent is incredibly competitive and the voluntary quit rate for manufacturing companies as a whole hovers around 15 percent. Employees are like customers; if you don’t take care of them, someone else will.

In Asia Pacific, we have been working hard to develop, engage and retain our talent, which is reflected in Ford’s lower-than-industry voluntary quit rate of approximately 5 percent (See more voluntary quit rate information in data table below.) and our steady increase in job offer acceptance rate (currently at 93 percent).

Rajesh was Asia Pacific’s first director for recruitment – a new position for Ford – and her team got to work immediately by carving out what she calls the “Four Bs” of human resources: buy, build, borrow and bond. The buy, or recruitment strategy, includes campus hires, experienced hires and executive hires. Although Ford historically likes to promote from within, in Asia Pacific there simply haven’t been enough individuals available to come up through the local ranks, necessitating a greater number of hires from other companies.

In 2013, we embarked on a unique campus recruitment initiative as part of the “buy” phase – first in China and later in India. We used childhood photographs of current employees to add a more personal touch. (See photos below). The campaign was a big hit, leading to a near doubling in the job application rate and a bigger pool of qualified candidates. To help recent graduates adjust to their new working environments, we offer a two-year training program that transitions students from campus life to corporate life. Approximately 300 individuals take part in this each year.

Campus recruitment campaign posters

Next comes the “build” strategy, which focuses on developing the functional and leadership skill sets needed for a global company. We have a variety of learning and development programs, from classroom experiences to mentoring and on-the-job development opportunities, all of which are helping to grow the skills of our new employees and build a high-performing and capable organization.

The “borrow” strategy is necessary because we don’t have the bench strength of people we need in the region to oversee the building of new plants and production of new vehicle lines. So we borrow Ford talent from other regions who are essentially on loan to our Asian facilities for a few years at a time.

Rajesh sees the borrowing phase as an essential and integral part of our talent strategy, helping to fill the skill gap while also grooming emerging talent. Work force development is accelerated by the presence of experienced international employees who are guiding, teaching and coaching the new hires.

“The more we are successful with our buy and build strategy, the quicker we will catch up on our talent gap so we can reduce our reliance on the borrow strategy in the future,” Rajesh says.

The last leg of the strategy is “bond,” or the employee engagement element. Ford does not have the same historic reputation in Asia as it does in Detroit, for example, where many young people grow up wanting to work for Ford or have families with employment history with the company. Given this challenge, we must work doubly hard to position Ford as an employer of choice in Asia Pacific. We must earn the emotional investment of our people so they choose to stay with Ford and help us build a long legacy in Asia for the future.

Our commitment to creating and sustaining a corporate culture that is engaging and where employees feel like part of the Ford family is a key value proposition and a differentiating factor in this competitive marketplace.

We have a lot to celebrate and be proud about, including several recent employee engagement awards in Asia Pacific (see box below). But there is much more to accomplish in support of our exploding regional growth. We believe our comprehensive “four Bs” strategy will be a critical enabler as we build and support our growing operations in Asia Pacific.

Recent HR Awards and Recognitions in Asia Pacific

  • Asia Pacific Top 50 IDEAL® Employers – Universum
  • China Top 100 IDEAL® Employers (2013 and 2014) – Universum
  • China Best 100 Human Resource Management Award – 51job Inc. China
  • Best Employee Engagement Program Award – 51job Inc. China
  • Best CSR Program Award – 51job Inc. China
  • China Top 10 Ideal Employer for 2014 Graduates – Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics Career Center
  • Ford Lio Ho: Corporate Role Model, Friendly Workplace –Taoyuan County Government, Taiwan

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