Zoë Davies’ mum loves Made in Dagenham, the film about women winning recognition and equal pay at Ford’s Dagenham plant in the 1968. Apparently she finds it hard to imagine how different the work and conditions are at Ford’s Bridgend Engine plant, where Zoe has worked for 14 years.
It’s a world away from the Metropolis-style image words such as ‘factory’ and ‘industrial’ conjure up, even now, to those who haven’t worked in one recently.
Bridgend isn’t a new plant, but it’s super-clean – you even have to walk across a sticky pad and wear clean gloves to work in the turbo section. Noise is muted; engine blocks glide along a conveyor belts past efficient robots or technicians according to the task.
Once complete, they will head to Ford plants all over the world, including the USA and Asia. The computers know exactly which engine is going where, and make sure each one has the right parts for the weather conditions and local emissions regulations.
Some 2,300 people work at Bridgend in three shifts. Zoë is one of the mega-loom assembly team (wire harness). There are 11 on the team, (just two are women) and they swap jobs throughout the day to avoid boredom. “It’s like a family,” she says.
All week she’s helping to show journalists around the plant. She often gets roped in when visitors come because she speaks fluent Welsh and can translate if necessary. We’ll be driving the new Fiesta ST once we’re finished here. She’s had a go and her face lights up as she says, “It’s really fast, much faster than my Titanium.”
The plant already makes the 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine, introduced in 2011, but while we’re here, we’re given some good news. A new 1.5-litre version comes online soon, meaning 500 more jobs.
It’s likely a number of them will be women, too. Zoë says when she started, there were very few, but a lot more have joined the workforce over the past couple of years. There hasn’t been a particular drive by the company, but she wonders if women are realising that factories have changed, and can be a rewarding place to work.