Mazda is also applying the Tomoiku approach to human resources development in China. Thanks to sizzling economic growth in recent years, China is now said to be the world's largest auto market. In 2005, Mazda sold 96,000 vehicles in China; by 2010, the figure had swollen to 236,000.
"To raise Mazda's presence in the ever-growing Chinese market, our most important task is to train the dealers who have direct, day-to-day contact with customers." So says Zhang Xiaonan, Assistant Manager at the Customer Service Department of Mazda Motor (China) Co., Ltd. (MCO). In 2009, Mazda opened three training centers, in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, providing vital facilities for human resources development in China. Zhang is tasked with the management of these three centers.
Located in a suburb of Shanghai, Mazda (China) Training Center Shanghai is fitted out with the latest service equipment to handle the latest Mazda models. In May 2011, in one of the training rooms, trainees were seen crowding around a Mazda6 (Atenza in Japan), poring over details and trying their hand at various service tasks. In a lecture room, peering intently at technical diagrams projected on a screen, the assembled trainees jotted down memos.
One of the instructors, Wang Xuewen, believes that in order to teach others, he must be the foremost authority on the topic at hand. This is why he has even dismantled a vehicle's transmission, part by part, diligently examining every facet. "It's important to gain a solid grounding in both theory and practice," he explains. "Nothing makes me happier than to see my trainees apply on the shop floor what they learn here, and even win prizes in engineering contests."
Feng Zhigang is an employee at the Shanghai Jinghe Branch of FAW Mazda Motor Sales Co., Ltd. (FMSC), a Mazda dealership in Shanghai, and a trainee at Mazda (China) Training Center Shanghai. Feng's eyes shone as he related, "I've had plenty of practice, so that part wasn't too difficult, but the theory was a real challenge for me. But doing the practice after understanding the theory helped me to learn much faster. I was really surprised at how my technical skills were growing every day."
The general manager (equivalent to a president in Japan) at Shanghai Jinghe, Shao Ji, introduced an anecdote that illustrates Feng's excellence. "A customer had requested us to fix a problem, but the other staff couldn't solve it. We had no choice but to contact Feng on his day off and ask him to take a look. He fixed the car in an instant!"
Naturally, having outstanding staff members like Feng enhances customer satisfaction. His example also has a powerful impact in motivating the other employees and improving their skill levels. "Thanks to the target model Feng has represented, the other staff members are more focused than ever on acquiring skills," Shao enthused. "It also energizes the whole workplace."
The training centers are rapidly emerging as important forums for Mazda's training activities. Issues remain, however. In 2010, the three training centers provided a total of 381 training days, roughly half their capacity. While this figure represents a 115% improvement from the previous year, increasing the utilization of the facilities in a short time remains a daunting task. Two reasons for this challenge are the blistering pace of China's economic growth and the country's sheer size. To participate in training programs, trainees have to entrust their duties to other staff, which is difficult at a time when every employee is completely busy in the rapidly growing market. Further, some regions are as much as two days' travel by train from the training center, creating great difficulties in attracting staff from throughout the country.
"The time taken by staff to commute to and from the training centers and train there poses a temporary obstacle for a company's regular work, but when you consider how staff members grow as a result, the benefits for the company as a whole are tremendous," Zhang explained. Growing serious, he added, "To gain people's understanding on this point, we are going to enhance the content of training programs, improve efficiency of management, and raise the working rate. If we can do that, we can encourage more trainees to use the training centers, greatly advancing the human resource development in China."
A vital mission of the training centers, as well as conducting the training on the latest products and technology, is conveying an understanding of Mazda's unique approach. The Mazda Way is a core component of that approach. "In the Mazda Way, 'Continuous Kaizen' and 'Tomoiku' are important for us," Zhang noted. "In this era of fast-paced change, it's impossible to learn everything by myself. What we're trying to achieve at this center is a flexible atmosphere where trainees can learn and help each other study together."
The cumulative number of trainees at the three training centers exceeds 3,000. By imparting an understanding of Mazda technology and the Mazda approach, these training centers are fostering capable personnel to steer the future of Mazda in China.