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Business & Economy

BMW chief shares COVID-19 insights with North East employers

North East employers have been hearing from their German counterparts about how to get operations back on track after COVID-19.

In a webinar organised by the North East England Chamber of Commerce, the senior vice president of BMW and head of its COVID-19 competence team set out how the car giant has adapted its manufacturing operations.

Dr Herbert Grebenc said: With automotive production, you are obviously dealing with the physical hardware so you really need to see the metal and decide how to solve any problems that might arise.

“To continue car production during this pandemic, it was clear we needed to get people back to the shop floor and, most importantly, they had to trust us to feel safe.

“In order to get the factory running efficiently and safely under the new restrictions our works council and management worked closely together.

“We introduced ‘pilots’ who coach and encourage people to follow the right behaviour, keep their distance and wear their masks where appropriate.

“We also instigated changes to the way our plant operates, for example, we installed curtains between operatives working on a car where people couldn’t be 1.5 metres apart.

“Most areas of our operation are at the same productivity level as pre-COVID, although there are parts of the plant where people have to wear a mask, so it is physically more tiring, and they require slightly longer breaks.

“In terms of our business administration we had a staged return to the offices although initially we did work mostly virtually for a time. Our office space has also been completely re-organised to ensure people are clear about how to move safely around the offices, hallways, lifts and meeting rooms.”

The availability of masks was initially a problem for BMW, so it started producing them in-house and now manufactures one million per week.

Dr Grebenc added: “Communication is the key to our successful policy on coronavirus. We speak to all our staff regularly to give them an update on the business and its recovery.

“We also use our BMW app for associates where we have an open dialogue about coronavirus and its impact on work.”