Proviron, Belgium: redeployment, training and development
Proviron NV was established by the Michiels family in 1977 in Ostend. The company manufactures and develops products and processes designed to improve the environment. In 1983, Proviron established its own process plants and was renamed Proviron Industries. Today, Proviron specialises in custom manufacturing, whereby chemical processes are used in an environmentally-friendly way.
Over the last 30 years, restructuring measures and mergers have led to a decrease in staff numbers at Proviron, from 1,800 to 301 employees. Further restructuring was also due to take place in August 2005.
In 2005, Proviron employed 301 workers, consisting of 191 blue-collar workers and 110 white-collar workers. Approximately 75% of the blue-collar workers work in shifts. The average age of employees is high: 70% of blue-collar workers and 40% of white-collar workers are aged 45 years or over. Because the workforce numbers fell from 1,800 to 301 employees during the 1980s, and have not grown much since, the age profile of Proviron employees is now relatively old. However, the turnover rate is very low.
Early retirement is granted to all Proviron employees who want to stop working at the age of 58 years (or 56 years for people who work in shifts). However, not everyone wants to stop working once they reach 58 years of age.
There is an open policy towards the trade union and its representatives and they are informed about and involved in different organisational matters. The employer likes to cooperate with rather than oppose the trade union, and the union is always informed and asked for advice about ongoing initiatives and discussions. Different matters are also discussed within the works council.
The original initiative
A number of years ago, Proviron decided to take part in the Knowledge Pool 50+ project, initiated by the Chamber of Commerce of West-Flanders in 2001. As part of the programme, all partners expressed their willingness to invest in the transfer of knowledge of their experienced staff and to develop an age-conscious staff policy. Considering the high average age of its employees, Proviron felt it was important to record and transfer the knowledge gained by older members. In the next 10 years, most of its current employees will leave the organisation because of retirement.
To help coordinate the Knowledge Pool 50+ project, a supervisor was assigned specifically to oversee the project within Proviron. As part of this new role, the supervisor mapped employees’ knowledge, questioned different employees about their functions, then translated the gathered knowledge and information into courses that could be used for training programmes. Thus, not only was knowledge recorded for the next generation of employees, but at the same time, training modules designed to transfer this knowledge were developed. As the first stage of the project proved very successful, it was continued with the help of additional volunteers.
Another key benefit of the project was the boost it gave to Proviron’s global training policy. A range of internal courses was developed and trainers and teachers were designated among the employees with expertise in specific areas (blue-collar workers, white-collar workers and management staff).
A further aim of the project was to develop an age-conscious staff policy, although age management is not new to the organisation. In this respect, the organisation has tried to create an environment in which respect for the work–life balance of all employees is promoted.
Good practice today
The Knowledge Pool 50+ project is still in operation at Proviron, and is considered to be an important part of the recording and transfer of in-service knowledge, particularly since the average age of employees is high and turnover due to retirement is expected.
After the initial success of the project, additional volunteers have since been assigned to work on the project. All volunteers are aged 50 years or over and are required to take part in a six-day training and coaching course, during which they are given practical and training skills, as well as being taught how to work with multimedia course material. After completing this training programme, the volunteers are added to a knowledge pool of experienced employees (blue-collar workers, white-collar workers and management), aged 50 years and over, who can be used both within or outside the organisation, to pass on their knowledge to younger employees. As part of this project, a CD-ROM has also been developed outlining methods of gathering and transferring knowledge.
All of the courses have been developed by experienced employees and are highly practical and useful for training young employees. The quality of the courses is high and low-skilled and unskilled workers particularly profit from this way of working. In addition, older employees win greater respect for their work and efforts, and their job is more diversified. This, in turn, increases their motivation to stay at work instead of considering early retirement. In general, the training courses help to reduce the gap between the older, unskilled (but experienced) blue-collar workers and young, skilled blue-collar workers.
The trade union is actively involved in and supports this project. Each year, there is an internal audit of the company’s training policy and the trade union representatives have access to these results. As there is mutual agreement concerning the training policy, the trade union encourages staff members to take part in the training courses. Although in-service training is voluntary, it is widely known that Proviron attaches high value to the personal development of it employees. Therefore, in 2006, all employees will be obliged to follow a new ICT course.
Older employees are encouraged to participate in in-service training programmes, since they still have internal career opportunities and age is not a criterion during selection procedures. Because of the relatively old age profile of the organisation, the introduction of older employees into the production process is not a problem. Although Proviron knows that the age profile will inevitably become younger over the next decade, it insists that age will never be a selection criterion. For example, a 58 year-old employee was recently hired for a specific team project, and the work quality of the entire team improved dramatically as a result. Cases such as this show that the age-conscious staff policy at Proviron is not only a vision or a principle, but is also put into practice.
The age-conscious staff policy at Proviron is not only geared towards older employees. To prevent burnout, absenteeism, staff turnover, etc, it is important to create a positive work–life balance for each employee, regardless of age. Proviron does this by providing opportunities for part-time work, career guidance and training opportunities. In this respect, the approach is individual, informal and based on trust. In addition, the trade union is always informed and asked for advice about ongoing initiatives and discussions.
At Proviron, the job of blue-collar workers is physically demanding. Some older employees develop a certain coping strategy, while others find the job too difficult. Two-thirds of the blue-collar workers work in shifts. For older blue-collar workers who find their job too stressful, the organisation tries to find an individual solution, although because of the shift bonuses, changing to a day shift is not always a popular solution.
Overall, the HR department and management try to maintain open communication with staff and their representatives, and there is a mutual respect between employees and management. Individual cases are handled the best way possible, and when problems are encountered, the company tries to find a mutually acceptable solution. If an internal solution is not possible, all employees are entitled to outplacement coaching.
Contact person: Mieke Buckens, Human resources manager
Proviron, chemie met respect voor de mens en zijn milieu, Jaarverslag, 2003.
Company website: www.proviron.com