ACC Verdichter, Austria: Fostering employability
ACC Verdichter, which produces refrigeration compressors, has a workforce that largely consists of unskilled workers. In order to be able to expand further, the company needs qualified staff. In the light of this aim, the company founded the ACC Academy, which offers free, publicly recognised qualification courses to all of their 600 workers, including temporary staff. Upon completion of the programme, they are treated internally as workers with a completed apprenticeship. Since autumn 2004, one third of the workforce has participated in the programme.
Appliances Components Companies, established in 2002, is Europe’s largest producer of household and commercial refrigeration compressors and household appliances motors. Its headquarters are located in northern Italy, with 10 production plants in Italy, Austria, Spain and China. This case study covers the Austrian plant ACC Verdichter, employing 614 people.
ACC Verdichter was founded in 1982 and continuously expanded its production range and capacity, which doubled in the last four years. In 2004, shift operation was extended from 18 to 20 shifts per week.
The majority (85%) of the workforce is male. More than half (59%) are unskilled staff, while about one-third are skilled workers. Seven per cent have A levels and 4% are university graduates. Some 98% of the workforce has a full-time contract and 2% work part time. One-quarter of workers are temporary workers. The average age is 39 years (the average age of the sector is 36.8). The works council represents the blue-collar workers and consists of nine male and two female members. The relationship with management is described as highly cooperative. Recent agreements include a new shift model in January 2006 and a unified pay scheme in autumn 2005. The union density rate is around 40% and the company is a member of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.
Description of the initiative
In 2001, ACC Verdichter experienced major problems at the start of operation of the additional production line, as workers did not have the appropriate skills and leadership positions had to be staffed with unskilled workers. In 2003, management planned the implementation of another new production line for 2007. Having learned from the previous difficulties, the HR department initiated a qualification programme that should be launched long enough before the roll-out in order to be able to qualify large proportions of the staff.
The planning of the programme started in mid-2003 and involved the HR department, the heads of production, the works council, management executives and the local training centre, which is operated by the Austrian Labour Market Service. The resulting qualification programme, called ACC Academy, was established in in an works council agreement in combination with the equality of treatment of workers and employees. The target group has been defined as unskilled workers, who make up the majority of the workforce. According to the HR manager, the aim was to set up ‘as transparent and accessible a qualification system as possible’. The programme was advertised through the company newsletter, posters on notice boards and in the course of annual talks between workers and the employer.
The ACC Academy was launched in September 2004. The programme advances through eight stages, from ‘starter’ (no qualified skills) to ‘team leader’, and mimics the job hierarchy in production. Each stage consists of various training modules which all need to be completed and concludes with an exam. The course is geared towards the curriculum of the apprenticeship for production technicians and mainly consists of the same or similar training modules, plus additional ‘soft skills’ modules. The acquired qualification certificates are publicly recognised and are therefore also of use outside the company.
The participants start with the appropriate stage according to their existing skills and competencies. After the completion of the whole programme, workers are treated the same way as workers with completed apprenticeships.
The training takes place in the local training centre next to the plant. ACC Verdichter agreed on longer opening hours, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the training centre. ACC has booked a fixed daily contingent of training places, which can be individually booked by the workers themselves, thus allowing them to determine their own pace of progress. Training is held in workshops, not in a classroom situation. There is one trainer responsible for instruction und supervision for every eight participants.
Training is evaluated by the participants. So far, the curricula have been changed slightly according to the feedback. Both HR management and the works council are responsible for monitoring, potential corrections and the cooperation with the training centre.
The programme is open to every worker who has been employed with ACC Verdichter for more than one year. In addition, temporary staff are allowed and encouraged to participate. While all the costs of the training programme are covered by the company, workers are required to attend the training in their free time. The latter requirement was negotiated with the works council, which eventually accepted it as necessary in order for the programme to be available to every worker and still be affordable; otherwise, only the participation of a smaller number of selected workers would have been possible. In return, the initiators arranged the flexible and autonomous handling of course attendance. Both HR management and the works council emphasise that they have not encountered any major problems or rejection among the workers. Still, women, workers with families and workers with second jobs (mainly on their farm; this applies to fewer than 10 workers) in the programme are said to be under-represented.
With the launch of the ACC Academy, internal job postings in the company have been linked with the requirement of having certain qualifications which are covered in the training modules. This is intended as additional motivation, but it also makes career paths transparent.
After being implemented in production in 2004, the programme was extended to the areas of maintenance and logistics in 2005, each orientated along the lines of the curricula of ‘official’ apprenticeships. The budget for the ACC Academy is EUR200,000 per year (training costs only).
The ACC Academy enables every unskilled worker, and also temporary workers, to take part in vocational training, provided they are willing to attend training in their free time. After completion of the programme, participants are treated as if they have completed an apprenticeship, which allows them the same income and career opportunities within the company. Acquired certificates are generally recognised, which also contributes to job mobility outside the company.
ACC Verdichter competes globally, including with the other production plants of the parent company. ACC Verdichter decided to pursue its expansion course by investing in the qualification of the workforce, which predominantly consists of unskilled workers. Qualification of staff and the resulting productivity were chosen as the only way to legitimate the location. While the Austrian plant is the most expensive in the company group, it is also the most profitable.
Firstly, the cooperation of all management levels and the works council as well as their continuous backing of the programme is considered to be crucial for the success of the programme. Another important factor is the tailor fit of the training to on-the-job requirements, which ensures that the training is highly relevant to the working routines in the plant as well as the transparency of career paths. Another important aspect is the communication of the programme and the awareness of the absolute necessity of qualification in order to keep the location and the workplace competitive.
So far, every third worker has taken part in at least one module of the ACC Academy. Seventy workers have completed the first two stages, 50 workers have completed the fifth stage and seven workers have completed the sixth stage as ‘qualified assistant’. Three workers are currently completing an apprenticeship externally (meaning they are not apprentices, but are taking the needed exams to qualify as such).
Exemplary and contextual factors
Several factors of this initiative can be considered innovative: the openness of the programme to every worker; the readiness of workers to attend the training in their free time; the covering of all costs by the company; the high degree of flexibility of the programme, which allows the worker to complete the training scheme at his or her own timing and pace; and the cooperation with the local training centre in extending training session hours and capacities.
Maria Klambauer, FORBA, Vienna