Food-processing company, Lithuania: Recruitment
This food-processing company, located in a small town in rural Lithuania, is part of a larger commercial group with divisions in 20 countries around the world and includes other business outlets such as restaurants, bakeries and food retail shops.
Currently, the Lithuanian company is expanding strongly. It has a general policy of favouring older workers within the organisation. Older employees working in administration are particularly valued because of their experience and knowledge, both of which also make them better candidates for promotion. In the case of blue-collar workers, who form the largest part of the workforce, the labour shortages faced by the company have resulted in older workers not being discriminated against when new employees are hired.
Although the company has no official document showing the age structure of the workforce, its HR specialist said that the factory employs 611 people with an average age of about 40 years. The majority of jobs are unskilled and are involved in the production side of the business. Apart from a short introduction before starting work at the factory, no other training is provided.
The workforce is made up of 60% blue-collar workers and 40% white-collar workers (10% of the latter being in management positions). Women form 70% of the workforce, working largely in production, while the men take care of the technical/mechanical aspects of the production process. The staff turnover rate is usually very high (37% in 2006) because wages are low relative to the workload. The factory operates 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and there are 3 to 4 shifts per day.
The trade union within the company, with about 150 members, seeks to improve the rights of workers in general. In practice, the union is not very influential and has virtually no impact on company policy towards older workers.
Good practice today
In recent years, the company has faced severe labour shortages, largely as a consequence of the booming Lithuanian economy as well as the migration of Lithuanian workers to other EU Member States, in particular the UK and Ireland. Hiring older workers has been the main response of the company to this labour market situation. Older workers are more available and less likely to migrate. In addition, older workers have typically been with the company for the longest period and hence are experienced employees, valued and appreciated by the company, especially in the administration side of the business.
Seasonality plays an important role in the availability of labour for the company. This is because the company’s catchment area for workers includes not only the small town where the factory is located, but also the rural areas surrounding the town, which provide about 30% of the workforce. The problem is that during the summer rural people of all ages often wish to work on their own farms rather than in the factory; while others prefer to take holidays during this period. The company reacts to the seasonal labour shortage by hiring new workers and it appears that most of those who are available tend to be older people (over 40 years of age).
In general, the management of the company considers the factory to be too large for the small town in which it is situated. For the company, this means that there is very little diversity in the supply of workers in the area and consequently the company is obliged to hire older workers because they are more available than younger ones.
Regarding promotion for jobs within administration, where there is a career structure, older workers are favoured over younger ones. This is on the grounds that age is regarded as a sign of professional experience, as well as of better knowledge in the working field in general. For this reason, being over 40 years of age is regarded as an advantage for administration workers. In some ways, this is in contrast to the typical experience in post-Communist countries, where older workers in white-collar jobs are often regarded as being unable to adapt to market economy needs.
In contrast to the administration area, there is no career structure for factory workers. However, some blue-collar workers, after they have acquired some experience in production, may be assigned to easier jobs and, in this sense, older workers get some opportunities for work that is less physically intensive.
There is little doubt that the employment of older workers by the company is the result of labour market circumstances rather than a conscious policy on active ageing. If younger employees were available, the company would prefer them, But older workers have positive advantages, as the HR manager stated; they tend to be more reliable and are more likely to stay with the company. In the administration area, experience is regarded as a positive asset and this is especially respected by younger staff members.
The company does not expect the labour market situation to change significantly. Young people tend to leave the area and move to larger towns in Lithuania, such as Vilnius or Kaunas, or go abroad in search of better job opportunities. Few young people are willing to start their careers in the food-processing factory because of the hard physical work involved. In practice, the company has experienced no critical incidents because of its older workforce and hence does not feel at any disadvantage. As a consequence, the company intends to continue with its policy of employing older workers.