EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Somelos, Portugal: Training and development


Case study name: 
Ageing workforce
Organisation Size: 
Textiles and leather
Target Groups: 
Skilled Manual
Initiative Types: 
developmentetcFlexible working practicesTrainingWage Policy


Organisational background


The Somelos Group operates in the textiles sector, and is located in the northwestern municipality of Guimarães in Portugal, an area with a long tradition in textiles. The Group’s main activities are the production of cotton and blended yarns, woven shirting and sportswear, with dyeing and finishing all carried out in house. From an organisational perspective, Somelos incorporates specialised support companies within the Group, such as Industrial Maintenance, Organisation, Information Technology (IT) and Management.

Each manufacturing division within the Group participates in all of the major fashion fairs worldwide, where they are able to display their expertise in quality, technology and design innovation. Careful selection of raw materials, together with a dedication to quality and customer service, enables the Group to attain a high level of product excellence. The company is export oriented, and supplies products to every continent, with the European Union being the largest market, and Italy the most important individual customer at national level.

Currently, Somelos employs 616 employees, 40% of whom are women. About 20% of the total workforce are aged 50 years or older. Furthermore, about 36% of the employees have worked in the company for 15 years or longer. Older workers are highly regarded, which is reflected in the fact that 20 older workers were recently promoted due to their experience and good work performance.

There is no works council in this family-owned company but the informal social dialogue is characterised by a traditionally good cooperation between employees and management.

Good practice today

In general, Somelos values all of its employees, irrespective of their age, and has implemented an equal opportunities culture. To be an attractive employer and retain all of its employees for as long as possible, the company has implemented several measures: a mixed-age work organisation, health promotion, a work performance evaluation system, and training and social incentives.

Most of the employees are qualified and the Group particularly respects the substantial experience of its older workers. This is true both for the production divisions as well as for management. In the production area especially, the operating of machines requires experience-based practical knowledge, which mostly the older workers possess.

In recognising this important role of older workers in the company and to retain and transfer their knowledge, Somelos has implemented an intergenerational knowledge transfer system. Older experienced workers and younger workers with updated technological know-how work together in mixed-age working teams. By mixing the teams in this way, the management hopes to complement the employees’ abilities and competencies and to promote mutual knowledge transfer between staff members. The practical exchange of knowledge and experience should be a two-way process if it is to succeed and if both the knowledge-giver and the knowledge-receiver are to profit from the exchange. Thus, just as the younger employees acquaint their older colleagues with the newest technologies, the younger employees also learn certain skills from their older colleagues, such as the operation and maintenance of machines.

The conclusion that older workers are at least as productive as younger workers can also be deduced from the company’s low sickness absence rate of 4%; this key figure remains stable across the age groups. To maintain their employees’ health, Somelos constantly tries to improve its working conditions and ergonomics, and also provides regular and preventive medical checkups. In 2006, the company doctor conducted more than 700 medical checkups.

To ensure a fair and performance-oriented payment, the Group has implemented a work evaluation system. In addition to the basic pay – which is higher than the collectively agreed wages – Somelos pays a bonus, the amount of which depends on the employee’s work performance. Older workers do quite well in this regard. Due to their experience and practical knowledge, they usually achieve a better performance than younger workers and consequently receive a higher payment. This evaluation system also supports the policy of retaining employees, as younger people recognise that the Group rewards good performance, experience, loyalty and development within the company.

The company’s interest in retaining older workers is also reflected in the fact that no case of early retirement has arisen in the last five years. At the same time, this situation indicates that older workers are satisfied with their working conditions and the organisation’s employment policy.

Aiming to retain not only the older employees but all employees, Somelos also provides a number of measures and policies. Training activities for all workers, for example, should enable employees to continuously develop their competences throughout their career. The Group rewards lifelong learning, as the recent promotion of 20 employees aged over 50 years shows. Another example of the services available is the company-owned kindergarten, which should improve the balance of work and family life. Consequently, the company’s policy can be described as a life-course approach that considers the overall question of ageing rather than focusing purely on older workers.

Further information

Contact: Américo Ferreira, Human Resources Director, email:



Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Add new comment