EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Silvan, Denmark: Recruitment


Case study name: 
Ageing workforce
Organisation Size: 
Target Groups: 
Other non-manualSkilled ManualUnskilled Manual
Initiative Types: 


Organisational background


Silvan, a Danish chain of do-it-yourself stores, has succeeded in integrating long-term unemployed older people into its labour force by conducting informational and recruitment campaigns. About 70 per cent of the participants in the campaigns now work in one of Silvan’s stores.

Silvan is a Danish chain of do-it-yourself centres that sells construction and home products for do-it-yourself projects. Silvan has 39 stores in Denmark with a total of about 2,000 employees. Each store is divided into seven product areas: home, electricity & lighting, garden, paint, hardware, wood and leisure time, plus a check-out counter. Every employee is assigned to one of the product areas where they have special knowledge and expertise. Silvan is a part of the DT Group and is owned by the English Wolseley group.

As in the retail trade in general, Silvan has a relatively high turn-over rate and, due to the low unemployment rate in Denmark, management has found it more difficult to recruit new personnel. About 20 per cent of employees are above the age of 50 and about 10 per cent above the age of 60. The average age of the employees is about 35 years. During recent years the objective has been to double the number of employees above the age of 50. About 70 per cent of employees are men and 30 per cent women.

Social dialogue with the trade unions is cooperative and the unions are involved in initiatives regarding work issues and policies.

Description of the initiative

Silvan management values senior workers because such employees are service minded and often have long experience with do-it-yourself projects. Customer analysis in the Silvan stores indicated that costumers prefer to receive advice and counselling from salespersons who are older than themselves. The analysis also indicated that most of Silvan’s costumers are aged 35 to 55 years, thus it is considered very important to employ and retain many people above the age of 50. During the past year; therefore, Silvan has initiated two major campaigns in order to recruit senior workers to the company.

The first campaign started in the summer of 2006 when Silvan scheduled a project to integrate, or reintegrate, long-term unemployed seniors into the labour market by offering them a job in the company. Silvan screened 75 profiles of unemployed seniors who were registered at the employment labour exchange centre in Copenhagen. Out of these profiles, several persons were contacted and invited to take part in a special training course with the purpose of offering them future employment in the Silvan Company. In addition, some unemployed seniors signed up for the course at the local employment service centre. In total, 16 people above the age of 50 signed up for the course.

During a six-week period, the participants took part in a specially-arranged training course. The participants were taught about the Silvan group, how to give good customer service and received professional training in using the products in the department store. This introduction period was longer and more thorough than the usual employee orientation because many of the participants came from other industries and/or had been outside the labour market for many years.

During the training period, the participants also received practical training with a personal coach in one of the Silvan department stores where they were assigned. The coach helped the participants learn the routines in the local department store and helped with educational training. The project was a great success; out of the 16 participants, 11 are now employed in Silvan stores.

The other campaign to recruit older workers started in the beginning of 2007. The objective of this project was not only to recruit among unemployed seniors but also among seniors in general. Based on the experience from the first campaign, the management has realised that one of the obstacles for seniors to start a new job is that they often find it difficult to write and send in a formal application. Often the senior person lacks confidence in their ability to write a formal application and to work in the industry. To make this process easier and less complex, Silvan has printed pamphlets stating that Silvan wants to hire experienced and mature people to work in the department stores. In the pamphlet it is pointed out that as long as the person has the right attitudes and values and is service minded, it is less important than having a formal education directed at working in the industry. To make the message clear, the front page of the pamphlet illustrates one of the senior workers in a Silvan uniform holding a carpenter’s rule.

Seniors visiting a Silvan store can pick up a pamphlet, fill in the coupon in the back and leave it at the customer service desk. In the next few days the person who filled in the coupon will receive a phone call from a senior worker at the department store and the two can talk about what it is like to work in Silvan. The potential employee thus has a chance to talk with a Silvan employee on an informal basis before having a job interview with management. This makes it easier to ask questions, which could be difficult to ask during a normal job interview.

The project is still running and has been a great success. On average for the 38 department stores, about ten people have used this opportunity to talk with a senior worker in order to get a job in Silvan. Between three and six formal job interviews have been conducted at each Silvan department store and one to two seniors have been employed per store as a result of the campaign.

The applicants have very different backgrounds and skills. Some are tradespeople who for different reasons do not want to work in the construction industry any more. Others have previously worked at offices or have been outside the labour market for some years. Most of them want to work in Silvan because they want to turn their hobby with do-it-yourself projects into a professional job and some of them have already retired but want to continue to work for a few hours per week.

Good practice today

Besides the recruitment strategy, Silvan management also makes an effort to retain seniors who already work at Silvan. As part of the personnel policy, every year each employee has a personal development interview with the management. During these conversations, the employer and the employee discuss topics such as working environment, relationships with colleagues, further training opportunities, etc. In order to retain senior workers in the company, some topics are added to the interview held in the year that the employee reaches 55 years of age. In this interview, the employee and the employer talk about the future career plans and how and when the employee wants to retire. They also discuss whether or not the employee wants a special senior agreement. If, for instance, the employee wants other work tasks or reduced working hours, it can be arranged during the interview.


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