Work Study at the Oxford University Press

SETTING THE SCENE: Management of printing came under increasing scrutiny after the Second World War when resources were in short supply and production needed to be ramped up.  The UK especially sought advice from the USA to improve production.  This article by Jim Chatting describes an approach to improving productivity at the Oxford University Press.

After the Second World war in the late 1940s there was a great deal of catching up to do by way of printing and the amounts of work available was far in excess of the capacity of the Press. The first Incentive Scheme at the Press was in the Letterpress Machine Room about 1949 when in order to achieve greater productivity a simple scheme was devised, in House, based on the make readies and number of sheets run. This scheme was discontinued after a short period

Not long afterwards with consultation between the management and the composing chapel a new scheme was agreed to be implemented based on a truly measured basis.

To establish values time studies were taken.  The job operation or process was first broken down into defined elements that could vary both with number and time taken to perform them. Some complex jobs involving a large number of elements to complete one cycle could take several hours to study, such as was the composition of mathematical equations in hot metal letterpress and at a later date letterpress make readies on large perfector machines. Various elements of work were studied and these were observed by a number of different studymen on a number of different operatives when this was possible using a stopwatch and recording on study sheets The expected possible range of work was covered for a particular department or section.

Analysed, charted and graphed to give a pattern of element frequencies and time that was required for a particular element and with the addition of allowances for personal needs and contingencies the result was a Standard minute (SM ) value. These standard element times were combined to give an overall standard minute value for an operation or job. In some departments ( for instance the Bindery) the three dimensions of a book had a bearing on the speed with which it was processed and so extensive SM tables were needed by the assessing staff to credit the appropriate SM’s for the work done. As far as possible for easier understanding the SM values were kept to as small a number as was consistent with the accuracy required.

Bonuses were calculated from the SMs earned, waiting time, if any, and the hours worked in a particular week including reconciling wrong clock card entries, missed entries and the missing daily work sheets or dockets as they were known. Assessing work was carried out by a number of mostly female assessors, though some craftsmen were involved for a time in the initial stages. There was also a worker representative elected by the chapel working in the work study department.

The Bonus scheme got under way with the Composing room Maths ship the first section to start. At the end of the year the Monotype keyboards and casters followed and over the next few months it was introduced progressively in all the composition areas.

Originally there had been quite strong resistance from the Machine room chapel after the first incentive scheme had bean discontinued and Bindery chapel was even more strongly opposed to the introduction of an individual incentive scheme. However now that they could see more money being earned by the Composing departments as a result of the productivity scheme the Machine Room asked for it to be extended to them. Later the Bindery also requested inclusion and this was done over a period of time.

At a later stage the Lithographic department was included and with the application of the Engineers the scheme was completed.

Various updates and maintenance changes were made to the scheme when methods and new equipment were installed and it continued running until the early 1980s.

At that point radical new approach had to be made. The original scheme had mainly been on an individual basis but a completely new scheme based on departmental performance rather than an individual performance was formulated much easier to maintain and easier to run. This meant that all members of a department had the same rate of bonus according to class depending on the productivity of the whole over a specified period. This scheme when fully implemented took fewer people to administer when compared with the number of assessors that were required for the original one which had been so detailed due to individual bonus calculations. By this time too the numbers of people employed in the Printing House had reduced from the starting level in 1950