OHL ŽS, Czech Republic: Training and development
OHL ŽS a.s. is a multi-specialist company in the construction sector and is one of the five most prominent construction companies in the Czech Republic. The company’s history goes back more than 50 years, and since 2003 it has been part of the Spanish Obrascón Huarte Lain S.A. (OHL) group which operates worldwide in construction, franchising and environmental services. OHL ŽS currently focuses on two segments of the construction industry: transport and land construction. The company has received a number of significant rewards, including the ISO 9001 certification on quality management standards and certifications for its environmental as well as health and safety systems.
At present, OHL ŽS employs more than 1,900 workers, about 1,030 of whom are manual workers and about 280 of whom are women. The average age of workers is 42 years, and the average length of service for employees at the company stands at nine years. Like other companies in the sector, OHL ŽS faces a growing shortage of specialist skilled workers, such as carpenters and plumbers, together with the challenge of a gradually ageing workforce.
The company’s trade union represents approximately 800 people and regularly signs a collective agreement with the company’s management. The existing collective agreement was signed in 2005 and will run until 2009, providing for gradual amendments of the provisions. The latter is seen as a sign of mutual trust between the employer and trade union. The union plays an important role when it comes to determining work hours or the dismissal of employees, as well as possible job cuts. The union also actively contributes to the social provisions offered to employees, such as contributions to recreational activities and cultural events.
Good practice today
OHL ŽS is a major company in the construction sector and aims to act as an effective investor in human capital. The company invests in diverse training programmes covering all professional levels, as well as in employee benefits. It also puts an emphasis on health and safety measures at the workplace. It is thus gaining a competitive advantage on the labour market at a time when it is beginning to be affected by a lack of skilled and manual workers.
OHL ŽS believes that it is necessary for a company in today’s economy to look after its employees if it wishes to maintain a competitive advantage, particularly under the current labour market conditions which are characterised by a shrinking available labour force in construction professions. The company’s complex strategy, aimed at becoming an attractive, high quality and motivating place to work, is built on the following three pillars: a benefits system, workplace safety measures and care for employees’ health, as well as support for specialist vocational training.
In terms of benefits, the agreement provides for an extra week of paid leave for workers in addition to the statutory minimum leave, increasing the annual leave provision to five weeks in total. The company also contributes to the workers’ pension and life insurance scheme; these contributions are further adjusted for older workers who previously did not have a chance to participate in such insurance schemes. Further employee benefits include, among others, meal subsidies, interest free loans from the social benefits’ fund, recreational activities to mark special events, gifts at employment anniversaries, a housing contribution and a holiday payment. The company also strives to increase employees’ job satisfaction by extending flexible working conditions. Whenever possible, the company offers flexible working time arrangements, such as flexible start and end times to the working day, of which employees make frequent use.
Health and safety
In 2002, the OHL ŽS long-term programme aimed at lowering the incidence of workplace accidents was awarded the ‘Safe company’ certificate by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. In 2005, the OHL ŽS safe company certificate was extended for another three years. The company has established a system of regular preventive medical examinations for workers, which is extended by a system of cancer prevention for managers. Employees also receive a contribution to the cost of vaccinations. These measures result in a lower than average incidence of workplace accidents and a low labour force turnover.
Training represents one of the main areas where OHL ŽS shows the extent to which it cares for its employees. For its training project, the company received substantial subsidies from the European Social Fund and the Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade. The subsidies covered more than half of the CZK 2.3 million (about €82,000 as at 14 August 2007) investment in training the company’s workers. The training programmes focus on three basic areas:
- work procedures in the management of human resources (HR), which is mainly designed for building supervisors;
- work procedures relating to the management of construction orders;
- work procedures relating to the economics of construction orders.
Training is not targeted at particular age groups but is available to all employees who are in any way affected by the information covered in the training programme. Training particularly concerns workers in middle and higher management positions and technical administrative staff. Many of the training courses are run by internal tutors who are recruited from company staff and specialised in the given subject matter. These tutors also receive special training in teaching skills. No particular age threshold exists to work as a trainer, but these instructors often happen to be recruited among highly experienced staff with a longer service history in one occupation. As a result, the company maintains its valuable know-how and makes good use of older workers’ experiences.
The in-house training centre prepares numerous specialist training courses which it offers to the company’s various organisational units. These units then choose a course that suits their own particular needs. In addition to the legally obligatory training courses, which cover subject areas such as safety at work, driving skills and working at heights, employees can choose from a selection of optional courses. These training programmes cover various subject areas, such as accountancy, computer skills, working with new materials, project management, quality control systems and management of orders.
Employees who are new to the company follow an induction programme. The employee receives a training plan and works in various jobs in the company in order to test which of these would best suit their abilities. During the induction programme, a mentor – who generally is an older employee – accompanies the new employee, which facilitates intergenerational dialogue and the transfer of know-how within the company.
After the company was taken over by the Spanish-based multinational OHL group, increasing workers’ language skills became a requirement in order to enable communication with foreign stakeholders. Since 2003, the company has been running English and Spanish language courses for middle and higher management and technical administrative staff. These courses run for four hours a week with the possibility of individual tutorials. Moreover, participation at these courses counts as part of the weekly working time and is fully funded by the company. Some 25% of the company’s white-collar workers have participated in the language courses. For the current academic year 2006–2007, course participants are expected to pay 25% of the course fee; as a result, there has been a slight decrease in the number of participants, declining from 200 participants to 150.
The company’s future development depends on a number of external factors such as the Czech government’s transport policy or the possibility to expand operations abroad. In particular, the latter puts specific demands on the workforce. The company will have to face the issue of training a sufficient number of specialists with adequate language skills, who would be willing to travel without causing a temporary ‘brain drain’ within the company. OHL ŽS therefore expects that further training and investment in employees, including efforts to attract young graduates, will enable it to handle its future personnel requirements.
Contact: Jan Rupp, email: firstname.lastname@example.org