L'Incontro Cooperative, Italy Job recruitment and flexible work practices
L'Incontro is a non-profit, social cooperative based in Castelfranco Veneto, in north-eastern Italy. Founded in 1991, it manages residences and job centres aimed at rehabilitating people with psychological problems or individuals who are socio-economically marginalised. Since its inception, the cooperative has grown and generated other cooperatives, and today it heads a consortium of 11 linked productive units, operating in the following sectors:
- home care for the elderly and for people with mental health problems;
- assembly of electronic and electrical products;
- production, transformation and sale of local agricultural products.
The cooperative’s management consists of a board of directors with a president and six councillors. Social dialogue takes place mainly through interaction between the board of directors and the works council. This means that there are no trade unions involved in the process.
The consortium employs 274 workers, some 20% of whom are women, and is made up of 144 worker-members and 130 art teachers. The worker-members have the right to vote for management nominees and to approve the budget.
The art teachers consist of employees who joined the consortium at an older age with the specific purpose of using their work experience to tutor the consortium’s service users (i.e. people with psycho-social difficulties who need to be rehabilitated into the labour market) and other workers (members or not). The average age of the art teachers is 63–64 years and 43 years for worker-members.
The original initiative
The L’Incontro initiative began in 1992 and was first prompted by problems encountered in recruiting qualified health care staff. As a result, management, with the approval of the assembly members, began to recruit workers who have taken early retirement and recently retired older workers. It also introduced flexible work schedules, i.e. part-time contracts and daily and weekly work schedules that matched workers’ needs.
The initiative started off by recruiting 20 professional nurses who had retired early from public institutes. In 1993, it extended its recruitment of older workers to include those outside the health care system. It hired specialised, mostly male workers from local industries in the area (including agricultural companies), to act as art teachers and help rehabilitate people with psycho-social problems, in conjunction with the protected job centres.
Today, many years later, this recruitment initiative and the involvement of art teachers continues. Its success has led to an initiative involving the production of commissioned electrical and electronic components and agricultural products. The effects continue to be positive for both the cooperative (evident in the rehabilitation of disadvantaged service users) and for older workers (by extending their economically active lives).
Good practice today
The L’Incontro initiative focused on recruiting older workers who had either recently retired or who had taken early retirement, and on adopting flexible work practices using part-time contracts and variable work shifts.
It began as a temporary measure to deal with difficulties in recruiting professional nurses. The cooperative expanded the initiative and began hiring older workers in other fields, including maintenance workers from the region’s local industries. These workers were employed to act as art teachers in protected job centres, to help rehabilitate marginalised and disadvantaged people so that they could return to the labour market.
Most of the recruits consisted of people who had taken early retirement or workers ineligible for pensions because of insufficient pension-fund contributions, as well as workers who had left the workplace early because they were unable to work full time. Employees also consisted of people who had left jobs they found too taxing, for example, maintenance workers from industrial plants that operated round the clock.
The initiative had positive effects for the cooperative, in terms of better services, better employee relations and increased motivation. The new employees – former specialised line workers and team leaders from the mechanical, electrical, electronic and agricultural sectors – raised the overall level of professional skill and expertise in the workforce and allowed L’Incontro to expand its production lines. Older workers also benefited, by extending their working lives without the restrictions of a full-time or inflexible job.
In 2004, the cooperative’s sales turnover was €15,191,210, of which €6,737,243 (44.3%) was for productive activities directly offered to the market. The remaining 55.7% was for rehabilitation activities carried out under contract for local public health agencies.
Within 10 years, L’Incontro has increased its number of art teachers from less than 20 teachers to the current 130 teachers. However, the board of directors is now proposing more qualitative improvements, to maintain the cooperative’s size. This is a result of a crisis in 2003, when many commissioning companies reduced their orders following relocation of their own production activities to economically cheaper areas, particularly eastern Europe.
Today, the company’s strategic goal is focused on better management rather than on expansion. The cooperative aims to monitor orders and replace low-margin and potentially loss-making activities with new activities that have greater added value. It wants to develop relationships with reliable, long-term customer companies. To this end, the cooperative decided, in 2004, to work towards quality certification – a strategic necessity for companies wishing to operate in public and private sectors – in line with new regulations for organisations operating in the social care sector.
However, certification has the following implications for the art teachers’ initiative:
- The cooperative’s recruitment must be more focused and less generalised. It is no longer possible to recruit a broad range of older workers with basic technical skills. Today, L’Incontro must use more selective standards to recruit employees who are not only able to transfer skills and knowledge to disadvantaged people, but also to respond to the complex and changing strategies the cooperative will face in the future.
- The cooperative must develop a flexible turnover model for art teachers approaching more advanced ages, as in the case of the art teachers first employed, who are now over 70 years of age. This should enable them to work alongside younger teachers who will gradually replace them.
- of the strategic relevance of the art teachers’ initiative, the cooperative has not yet initiated any new age-related projects .
Bruno Pozzobon, Chief executive officer (email: email@example.com)
Armando Matesco, President, Supervisory board
Six members of the board of directors (expression of assembly of members) – Manuel Scapinello (also an art teacher), Walter Fabrin, Chiara Toffolon, Cinzia Gemin, Marta Piva, Nadia Fontana