EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Thales, France: Comprehensive approach


Case study name: 
Ageing workforce
Organisation Size: 
Target Groups: 
Professional/managerialSkilled Manual
Initiative Types: 
Comprehensive approach


Organisational background


In 2001, Thales concluded a collective agreement related to the career development of older workers. The agreement was designed to allow older workers to maintain and develop their skills and to support knowledge transfer. This agreement was complemented in 2006 by another one related to the career development of all workers. This evolution shows that Thales has progressively decided to promote a life-course approach.

Thales is an international group producing electronics, systems and services for the defence, aerospace and civil security markets. Turnover in 2005 was about 10 billion euros. Thales employs about 59,000 workers worldwide but most of the workforce, about 32,000 employees, is located in France. Engineers and managerial staff represent the most important part of the workforce (about 60%). Other members of the workforce are technicians and blue-collar workers. This fact is directly linked to the activities and to the overall evolution of the group, which has been focusing more and more on technological innovations to answer its clients’ needs. Women represented about 28% of the workforce on 31 December 2005.

As of 31 December 2006, 29% of the total workforce is aged 50 years and over: 26% of engineers and managerial staff are aged 50 years and over and 36% of technicians and blue-collar workers are aged 50 years and over. Average seniority is 17 years.

The group’s HR policy is focused mainly on training and mobility. In this area, various tools are being implemented, such as those allowing workers to know the company’s job opportunities and methods to move from one job to another

Social dialogue is significant. The five main French trade unions are represented within the group. Collective bargaining has recently led to several group-level agreements, especially one aimed at promoting the social provisions applicable to group employees and another related to labour relations and union membership.

Various factors contribute to Thales policy towards older workers:

  • ageing of the company’s workforce, especially resulting from the end of early retirement schemes;
  • necessity to take into account shifts in the company’s available jobs, considering changes in technologies used and work organisation;
  • knowledge transfer, which is essential for a company offering highly technical products and services.

All these factors have led to the forming and implementing of measures aimed at maintaining workers in employment longer by fostering occupational mobility, career development and skills transfer.

Since 2001, Thales policy has progressively gone from an approach targeting older workers (i.e., those aged 50 years and over) to an approach addressed to all employees.

Description of the initiative

On 29 November 2001, a first group-level collective agreement was signed between management and two trade unions, representing the majority of the workforce. This open-ended framework agreement is related to enhancement of the work experience and management of the second part of careers. It was implemented in all of the group’s French companies through several company-level agreements.

The main provisions of this agreement are:

  • Early exit measures focused on employees complying with conditions planned by legal provisions. On a voluntary basis, workers encountering problems linked to disability or having experienced hard working conditions could benefit from early retirement. Initially, these measures were to be applied only until 31 December 2004 and were limited to a maximum of 1,550 workers. Through these measures, Thales implemented the end of early retirement policies widely used by the company in the past.
  • Equality between workers aged 50 years and over and younger workers, especially, but not limited to, pay rises. Any discrimination based on age is strictly forbidden.
  • Career development. This orientation is to be especially supported from the age of 45 years and older. It is implemented by career interviews with HR managers, measures supporting occupational mobility (no mention of age in job offers published within the group, the right for employees choosing mobility to get back their former job during their first six months on a new job) and training opportunities (personalised assessment of training needs and training credit of 100 hours to be used during three years).
  • Promotion of professional experience. Priority is given to workers aged 50 years and over to become mentors voluntarily or to participate in transverse projects within business groups.

Although the agreement targets older workers, it also emphasises that career development is not only a matter of age but has to be promoted in a life-course approach. On 22 November 2006, therefore, management and four trade unions concluded another group-level collective agreement aimed at promoting anticipation of shifts in company’s jobs, career development and training. This agreement is to be directly applied in all French companies in the group. Addressed to all employees, its provisions complete those planned by the previous agreement. The provisions to help promote career development are:

  • Development of information about shifts in jobs and skills to anticipate change. Several detailed measures are planned to meet this objective, both at group and company level. Each employee is to be informed about the evolution of his job in order to build his career path. Career interviews are promoted (at least one for each employee per year and dedicated training to managers).
  • Promotion of voluntary occupational and/or geographical mobility through dedicated and personalised support (mentoring, skills assessment, testing of new potential job for 6 months and support in case of a move due to geographical mobility).
  • Training opportunities through various tools: support for the validation of work-derived experience, implementation of the individual right to training and setting up of personalised training to support redeployment.

Apart from measures included in the agreements, especially mentoring, knowledge transfer is also addressed through different means. One main measure consisted in the setting up in 2000 of an internal consultancy unit called ‘Thales Missions et Conseils’. The aim is to enhance professional experience and expertise by offering to senior managers and experts the opportunity to temporarily become consultants for the group or for external companies. It is thus a career option which can arise during career interviews.

Volunteers can follow training while working as a consultant within the group for 18 months. They thus have the possibility to develop their skills regarding relationships with customers, and therefore to improve their employability. Most of the workers involved stay in the group after the 18 month period. Originally targeting older workers, this measure has progressively enlarged its scope, and today 56% of the consultants are less than 50 years old (aged between 38 and 44 years).

Implementation of the measures depends on line and operational managers, HR managers, trade unions and employees. Trade unions closely participate in the implementation process. They especially take part in the follow-up of the measures and in the internal jobs observatory set up by the 2006 agreement.

Difficulties encountered mainly consist of cultural ones:

  • employees have to learn to manage their own career development;
  • managers have to accept that age is not to be considered as a key criterion for recruiting workers (this is essential when considering internal mobility).

Improvements in the representation of age have begun to occur, however. The follow-up of measures planned in the 2001 agreement shows that on 31 December 2006:

  • 30% of workers aged 50 years and over benefited from training in 2006. This percentage is similar to the one related to younger workers;
  • the number of personalised career and skills assessments has regularly increased since 2004;
  • 73% of employees aged 50 years and over have benefited from an individual pay rise in 2006 (83% for younger employees).

Good practice today

The Thales agreement demonstrates that the key factors of success are a precise knowledge of the skills requirements of the posts available within the group and of the evolution of jobs, a wide range of training and mobility opportunities and the common accord of management, employees and trade unions to focus on a life-course approach.


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