EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Pia School of Catalonia, Spain: Recruitment, training and development


Case study name: 
Ageing workforce
Organisation Size: 
Target Groups: 
Other non-manualProfessional/managerial
Initiative Types: 
developmentetcFlexible working practicesHealth and well-beingRecruitmentTraining


Organisational background


The Pia School of Catalonia (Escola Pia de Catalunya), in Barcelona, Spain, is a relatively large, non-profit Catholic teaching institution for children and adults of both sexes up to the age of 23 years. Currently, there are 18 of these schools throughout the region of Catalonia.

The organisation offers three different categories of education in accordance with current educational legislation:

  1. Young children’s education: early learning services for children aged 0–3 years, pre-schools for those aged 3–6 years, and voluntary (non-compulsory) education.
  2. Regulated, or formal, education, which is the school’s principal activity:
  • Basic compulsory education: from six to 12 years (primary school); from 12 to 16 years (secondary school); and higher secondary education from 16 to 18 years.
  • Professional education: middle and higher levels.
  1. Non-regulated, or informal, education: this concerns centres offering work experience in certain fields and specific professional training modules.

The central office coordinates the work of all the educational centres to ensure efficient organisation and management of the different areas of work: financial (accounting, human resources (HR), treasury, legal), administrative and teaching.

In total, the organisation employs 2,030 workers. Some 56% of employees are younger than 40 years old, 26% are aged between 40 and 50 years, and 18% are aged over 50 years. Women represent 64% of the workforce.

The workforce is highly qualified. Teaching staff with university qualifications make up 80% of employees. Administration or services personnel represent 20% of the workforce.

At company level, there are representatives from trade unions in the majority of the schools.

The original initiative

The Pia School of Catalonia group has implemented four initiatives for an ageing workforce:

  • promoting the recruitment of older workers;
  • equal access for all employees to training;
  • a gradual retirement scheme;
  • integrating age-specific issues into the health policy.

The first two measures have been in place for the last 10 years and have yielded positive outcomes for older employees and for the teaching methods used by the schools.

The recruitment of older workers is supported by the financial incentives received from the state, but it is also approved by management who realises the added value of hiring older, more experienced employees. Training enhances and updates the existing knowledge of all staff. All employees, including teaching staff, administration and services personnel, participate in training courses.

Since 2002, the organisation has implemented Spanish legislation (Law 35/2002) on gradual retirement schemes, and recognises the importance of knowledge transfer from those availing of gradual retirement to younger staff. At present, 39 workers within the entire school group are in gradual retirement phase.

The organisation’s current health policy has only recently come into effect and is still in its first year of operation. It is based on an evaluation of health and safety protocols, which introduced some changes, and also resulted in a policy of medical check-ups for workers aged over 60 years.

Although these four initiatives were phased in at different times, the organisation views their implementation as an integrated social policy approach.

Good practice today

The four initiatives currently in operation aim to promote a system of good practice in relation to the treatment of the organisation’s ageing employees, such as teaching staff as well as administration and services personnel, in the schools and education centres. These initiatives are based on management belief that age should not be a discriminating factor in the employment of workers within the education sector. The new measures have been implemented as part of various HR policies aiming to improve the quality of the teaching that the organisation provides, and also to enhance internal relations between management and staff.

Recruitment of older workers

In accordance with Spanish Law 22/1992, the recruitment of unemployed workers older than 45 years is encouraged, if their profile matches that of other candidates and they would be suitable for the vacant job, and if the allowances that the welfare department offers for the recruitment of workers in this age category are applicable. The Pia School of Catalonia applies this principle for all staff in all areas of work.

In addition, the ‘Taula de Recol·locació de centres en crisi’ – an employment exchange managed by the education department of the autonomous government of Catalonia and representatives of the trade unions and employers – is consulted in the recruitment of older workers. Whenever an Approved Educational Centre (Centre d’Ensenyament Concertat: private education centres that receive public funds) downsizes and has a surplus of teachers, those teachers have the option of registering with the employment exchange instead of being made redundant. The teachers are normally over 50 years old. If an educational centre contracts a teacher from this employment exchange, it will be entitled to a reduction in social security payments, and the number of funded teaching hours will be increased in that particular school.

For new recruits at the Pia School of Catalonia, who are aged between 45 and 55 years of age, these recruitment strategies provide good job prospects, which the school evaluates positively. The recruited older workers often have a very high sense of involvement and commitment to the school; and the school values their level of experience, preferring to hire more experienced older people than younger, less experienced applicants.

Access for all ages to training

The Pia School group offers ongoing training sessions to staff (a minimum of 30 hours a year). This applies to all age groups and is obligatory, thus exceeding the education agreement, which also recommends a maximum of 30 hours of training per year per employee but does not make it obligatory.

There are three types of training programmes on offer to employees:

  • introductory training for new employees: thematic information, teaching objectives;
  • specialised training on specific subjects: additional training in the teacher’s specialisations and in didactics;
  • investigative projects: update of courses and techniques.

The administration and services personnel also participate in courses on administration and computing tools, customer services and secretarial work.

Gradual retirement

As stipulated in Spanish Law 35/2002, employees aged 60 years or older can reduce their working hours by up to 85%. Employees usually reduce their working hours at a rate of 50%–60%. If employees choose to avail of this opportunity, they will maintain the same wage and social welfare benefits (in proportion to the number of hours worked and topped up by the retirement pension). However, the company must hire someone to work the number of hours that the older employee gives up until the older employee retires. So far, 39 employees are in phased retirement and three have requested to join the scheme.

It should be noted that requests for partial retirement have to be made to the National Welfare Institute (Institut Nacional de Seguretat Social, INSS), which is a lengthy procedure. If the request is refused, the employee will have earned less wages and paid less to social security in the meantime; the employer will have paid the difference. The employee will still have the right to return to full employment, but the company must honour the contract of a new recruit, even if they are no longer needed in the job.

Health policy

As defined in the regulations concerning working conditions and in the Plan for the Prevention of Occupational Hazards (el Pla de Riscos Laborals), all workers of the company are entitled to a voluntary medical examination. The Pia School group offers this on an annual basis. The medical protocol was revised to include an electrocardiogram and an adapted and preventive examination for workers aged over 60 years. This change came into effect in 2005, and an evaluation of this initiative is expected in the 2006 annual report.

The introduction of this new measure is the outcome of an evaluation of previous health assessments. In the new health and safety protocol, the criterion was added that all check-ups should be adapted to the characteristics of the worker being tested, including the person’s age.


The company continues to evaluate these four measures and believes that they yield the following benefits: have a positive impact on job satisfaction; improve teaching methods; encourage a high level of involvement in the company; increase the transfer of knowledge; and improve employees’ health. The secretariat of the central coordination services has given positive feedback on the measures, which are in accordance with the legal provisions of the state and the Autonomous Government of Catalonia concerning the employment of older workers and gradual retirement.

Further information

Contact: Ramon Francoli, General Secretary; Xavier Sanchis, Human Resources Department



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