Skilled maintenance workers under lean production
: a car industry case study.

  • Ronald Roberts

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In recent decades, lean production has been an enduring feature of the automotive industry and the subject of extensive scholarly debate. This thesis adds to such debates by exploring a novel area of discussion largely ignored in the literature: skilled maintenance workers, engineering craft apprentices and their unions. It does so by considering the trajectory of these groups and how they evolved over the lean era. The thesis draws upon a single case study of a UK car plant to assess the trajectory of skilled maintenance across time. It combines shop-floor interviews with skilled workers, engineering apprentices, union representatives and operational managers with supporting archival documents from the plant and union archives. Overall, the research finds a largely negative trajectory for skilled workers and apprentices following the introduction and embedding of lean practices. Furthermore, in the same period that lean degraded their work experience, skilled workers' union voice waned following the absorption of craft specific unions into the general union of Unite. The results of the findings are related to the future of skilled work in the UK auto industry and the role of occupational specific union representation.
Date of AwardDec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorNiall Cullinane (Supervisor) & Paul Teague (Supervisor)


  • Automotive industry
  • skilled maintenance workers
  • lean production
  • engineering apprenticeships
  • union voice

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