IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Preconditions necessary for implementing job rotation in a population of assemblers in the aerospace industry – The impact of quality requirements on the development of versatility and on learning


A large company in the aerospace industry wanted to develop its assemblers’ versatility by introducing job rotation. Recognizing the complexity of the problem, it sought the expertise of the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST). It asked the Institute to identify the preconditions necessary for implementing job rotation practices in the hope of preventing the MSDs that often affect this worker population. The department that assembles the cockpits of two of the company’s flagship’s aircraft has to contend with the usual physical requirements involved in assembly, the department’s strategic position in the lean production cycle, and the high level of expertise required in performing assembly tasks. It has four assembly workstations operated by over 20 assemblers working under the supervision of three team leaders. The work is characterized by, among other things, long cycles (because the complete assembly of a cockpit takes several days) and high quality requirements.

The approach adopted was to test different job-rotation scenarios and do follow-up on the outcomes. The assemblers and other stakeholders were strongly urged to participate in both data collection and the development of methods for implementing and managing the job rotation scheme. A steering committee was given regular updates on the project progress. A first phase, involving interviews with the organization’s key stakeholders (n=16), provided a better understanding of how this vast company works and clarified the roles and interactions of the various departments within the organization. A questionnaire survey was conducted on the health of the assemblers (n=22) and their perceptions of the job rotation. Prior to testing the different scenarios, data were collected on risk factors and learning challenges. Data collection required the development of innovative methods combining observation, individual interviews, and group validation meetings. The resulting data formed the basis for the rotation scenarios developed by the stakeholders themselves and resulted in the detailed specification of the preconditions needed to facilitate implementation of the rotation scheme. Original follow-up methods were applied to study the prevailing situation after two trial implementations, which were carried out four months apart. With the wealth of information obtained, a committee was formed in the company to take charge of the matter in the form of a structured project-management process, with the assistance of the research team.

This report explains the process used and methods developed, and presents the main results obtained. It discusses the preconditions that we found to be essential to the implementation of job rotation practices in this worker population. It highlights the great importance of the learning challenges specific to jobs in this industry, where the quality requirements are extremely high, as well as the organizational support needed for coaches/trainers and team leaders. The latter have to both manage the rotation logistics and troubleshoot the many unforeseen problems that occur during the production cycle, which characteristically runs on a ‘just-in-time” basis. Given assemblers’ high level of expertise and the structuring effect of the quality requirements, the implementation of job rotation in this industry cannot be improvised. It must be carried out as a formal organizational project with built-in leeway to facilitate self-management of the rotation process by workers and first-line supervisory staff.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
Research Project: 0099-8900
Online since: December 19, 2014
Format: Text