Case study on training and development: API Raffinera di Ancona Spa, Italy
API Refinery of Ancona Corporation refines raw materials to produce petroleum products. The refinery was established in 1950 and belongs to API Holding Corporation. Located in Ancona, it is 99% controlled by API (Anonima Petroli Italiana Corporation). Its sales for 2004 were €165 million.
The refinery employs 425 people, 173 of whom are executive, management and clerical staff and 214 of whom are production workers. The majority of employees are male (only 19 are women), and 128 are older than 45 years of age. In 1997, API opened a new electric plant, a move that resulted in the hiring of around 60 new employees. Employee turnover is very low: API tends to hire young workers who generally stay until retirement age. Older workers are respected for their experience, which is considered important because of the nature of API’s business.
Work at API is organised according to a hierarchical structure, with older employees generally holding roles with higher responsibility. This is beneficial for the career development of older workers.
The average retirement age is 60 years but API realises that recent laws aimed at increasing retirement age will soon lead to an increase in the number of older employees. Although the relationship between the company and trade unions is good, and is characterised by cooperation and mutual trust, it is the company that defines the human resource policies.
The original initiative
API’s training and development initiative focused on continuous worker training without discrimination towards older employees. In fact, older workers have been among the most attentive during its training courses. The initiative began in the early 1990s, motivated mainly by the need to deal with safety and environmental issues and also by the success of training for new employees. As a high-risk business, the API Refinery needed to improve safety in the workplace.
Two main types of continuous training are provided:
- technical and professional – courses on safety and environmental issues; also includes training on the use of new tools and equipment;
- management – courses on interpersonal relationships, group management, communication, team building, etc.
The impact of continuous training on employees has been positive. Even older workers perceive training as a source of opportunities for further career advancement. Technical training has prepared workers to deal with critical safety and environmental situations. Management training has led to better relationships between colleagues and between supervisors and subordinates. This has improved the working environment for all employees.
Good practice today
Originally initiated in the early 1990s, continuous training is now part of every API employee’s working life. Training consists of a programme designed for workers of all age groups. The programme has grown and developed through the years and today, as one of the company’s most important human resource policy tools, it receives a much higher budget than previously.
Currently, every employee has to undergo a four-hour training session on technical, professional, safety and environmental issues, every three months. Training on job-related subjects is given from time to time, according to the type of job. The job training sessions usually last 16 hours, and are delivered over two consecutive days, involving 10 to 30 workers every year.
Management training, on the other hand, is given partly in response to individual requirements (for example, to improve work skills that an immediate supervisor considers weak or lacking) and partly in a more structured manner. This training includes group courses lasting 16 hours over two consecutive days. However, there is no set annual deadline for the sessions.
API strongly believes in this initiative and has budgeted for increasingly larger amounts to fund the programme each year. Under-spending of this training budget is perceived negatively by the company.
In 2004, API allocated €485,500 for training, or around €3,000 for each employee who participated in the individual courses (an employee can take more than one type of training course). This was up from around €2,400 per employee in the previous year. The total budget represents some 50 executives, 800 middle managers and office employees, and 2,200 workers.
In 2004, employees were considerably more involved in courses relating to safety and the environment, and in courses on technical and professional skills, than they were in interpersonal skills training. This is clear from the lower level of participation in courses such as human factors, team work, audit, project management, versatility and multifunctionality, intercompany training, behavioural and management training, coaching and step training.
Following good practice, the company’s training and development initiative continues today and has been extended to include executive employees who were originally excluded. It should be noted, however, that the role of the trade unions in this initiative has changed. At first, the unions were only informed of the company’s decisions, now they participate in the planning process. This is due, in part, to the initiative’s current use of a national fund for worker training.
Among the benefits of continuous training is the greater sense of belonging that exists in the company. The initiative also takes lifelong training course objectives into consideration; for example, the issue of career development and advancement is closely linked with continuous training, as well as with individual worker skills.
API became aware that it must consider the ageing workforce when laws were passed to raise the retirement age. These provisions will increase its number of older workers and thus requires new provisions for managing these workers. The government has already begun to increase the retirement age and, between 2004 and 2007, is offering economic incentives to eligible workers who choose not to retire.
At the API Refinery in Ancona, the current average retirement age is 60 years, but this will rise to 65–67 years in the future. With the ageing of the workforce, the issue of managing shift work, especially for night shifts, is expected to be a critical issue. To date, API has not managed shift workers according to age. However, because production proceeds 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the company, with some misgivings, is considering the possibility of putting older production workers on night shifts.
Worker representatives share management’s concern and are evaluating the possibility of exempting older workers from night shifts or redeploying them to other duties. This is a subject of ongoing discussion because more than half of API’s employees are shift workers. This issue, combined with the increasing proportion of older employees engaging in shift work, represents a significant problem for the company.
- Dr. Antonio Cavacchioli, Responsible for industrial relations and organisational development; Email: email@example.com
- Dr. Nicola Vigilante, Responsible for selection and training; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. Roberto Dalessio, Trade union representative, RSU UIL
- Company website: www.apioil.com
- Publications: Con voi (With you), Quarterly of the API Group, available at: http://www.apioil.com/ita/house_organ.asp