ABB Control illustrates best practice for management of older workers

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Finland's National Programme for Older Workers, which is being carried out in cooperation between various ministries and the social partners, aims to disseminate best practice in the management of an ageing workforce. In June 1999, the programme published a report on the case of ABB Control, a company which has implemented a development project, preceded by a phase focusing on the health and ability to work of the staff, and development of the "workplace community". The parties involved have reportedly been satisfied with the progress achieved and the commitment has been strong.

Finland's National Programme for Older Workers - launched in 1997 and based on tripartite cooperation between the social partners and various ministries - aims to disseminate best practice in the development of employees, focusing on the management of a workforce which is becoming, on average, older (FI9708125F). The programme endeavours to discover practices whereby organisations and their personnel are developed in such a way that the resources represented by workers at different ages can be taken better into account in strategic planning. By this means, the process of reforming working life can be linked with the ageing of the workforce.

In June 1999, the programme published the results of some of its projects. It cites the example of ABB Control Oy, which develops, manufactures and markets an extensive assortment of low-voltage equipment. The company turnover was FIM 606 million in 1998, with export orders amounting to FIM 300 million from 60 countries, and it employs around 800 workers. According to the report, staff development is an essential part of ABB Control's business, and business vision and strategy and the know-how of the personnel are closely integrated. The company's values reportedly include seeing the organisation as a learning process and an increasing appreciation of employees' experience. In 1999, for the first time, a reporting system for "personnel accounting" is being applied extensively. The aim is to help the management to obtain up-to-date information on the atmosphere at the workplace, on human resources and workers' ability to cope, and on the development of know-how in relation to the company objectives.

As long ago as late 1994, the company had started to participate in Finland's most widespread, systematic and heavily researched project on ability to cope at work. This was undertaken through subprojects concerning employees' health and ability to work and development of the "workplace community". The programme reportedly helped to open doors of equal opportunity for the continued development for personnel of different ages. This was followed by a process involving "management of know-how". The aims are to: focus the company's vision and core know-how; update the process of "skill mapping"; highlight the critical know-how needs; and extend discussions on values started at the end of 1998 to cover the whole organisation. The objective is to find out what kind of know-how will be needed by the end of 2005, and to acquire the knowledge to meet these needs.

With regard to management styles, the report states that the company aims to move from "issue-oriented" management toward more "human-oriented" management. However, this has been found difficult, especially in ABB Control's manufacturing sections, as it means that supervisors need to be able to tackle the complicated operational environment and to manage both younger and older personnel to meet the strategic needs of the company.

By raising the level of knowledge, the intention of the ABB Control programme is to safeguard the jobs of the entire workforce. Up to now, all the parties have been satisfied with the progress of the projects and the commitment has been firm, concludes the report.

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