Atlas Copco, Sweden: Increasing the labour market participation of underrepresented groups – young people
Atlas Copco, part of the global Atlas Copco Group, is located in the municipality of Botkyrka, a suburb of Stockholm. In cooperation with an employer confederation and the municipality, Atlas Copco is involved in a process to link industrial companies and young students in secondary school. By participating, the company shows social responsibility for young people (many with immigrant backgrounds) and contributes to the long-term supply of technological competence by influencing young people in their career choice. The programme consists of training sessions for groups of six students, with employees from different departments of the company acting as trainers/lecturers
Atlas Copco is involved in a cooperation project with an employer confederation and the municipality of Botkyrka, a Stockholm suburb. The project is built on the assumption that a closer cooperation between companies and primary and secondary schools is needed to secure a long-term and work-life oriented supply of competent employees, especially in technological occupations. Launching the project in Botkyrka, which has relatively high rates of immigrants and unemployment, also makes the project important in fighting segregation.
The Atlas Copco Group is a global industrial group, listed on the stock market, employing about 26,000 people worldwide. The company operates in four business sectors: compressor operations, construction and mining, industrial operations and rental service. The operations are based in 15 divisions, each of which has total responsibility from product development to sales and services.
The company headquarters is in Nacka, just south of Stockholm. Operations in the Stockholm area are focused on administration and headquarter functions, product development, sales and marketing, services and tools division and engineering workshop.
There are about 500 employees in the Stockholm divisions. The dominant categories are white-collar workers in administration, development and sales, 80% of whom are men and 20% women. These employees are mainly organised in the Swedish Confederation of Salaried Employees (SIF) and different professional unions linked to the Confederation of Professional Associations (SACO). The company has a tradition of smooth cooperation between management and the unions at different levels. Overall, in the Swedish divisions of Atlas Copco, union density is over 80%, although it is somewhat lower in the Stockholm area
Description of the initiative
The project is an initiative from the head of the school department in the municipality, together with the chairman of the National Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (a former chairman of the Atlas Copco Group).
The basic idea of the project is to involve companies as mentors and trainers/lecturers and suppliers of some vocational practice. Four secondary schools, together with seven international technology-oriented companies take part in the project. The students, between 13 and 15 years of age, are selected by the school. The emphasis is on students with an immigrant background, who speak three languages and have an interest in technology. The students are organised in small groups and the company organises the activities, which include information, study visits, summer jobs and vocational training places. In the first round, 40 students were selected. In the Atlas Copco group, there were six students, a mix of girls and boys.
Atlas Copco’s own motives for participating are both social and business-based. Young people need contact with businesses as role models and for help in their study and life choices. In addition, business needs to be involved with young people to secure future competent employees and to introduce young people’s values into the organisation, especially from multi-cultural backgrounds. The benefits for the business are both short-term oriented, getting young people’s values, and long-term oriented, increasing Atlas Copco’s recruitment base.
In Atlas Copco, these motives were supported by their global business code on society and the environment; ‘Atlas Copco encourages learning and development through co-operation with local communities.’ There are also other measures for diversity being implemented, recruitment for professionals and the integration of immigrants at factory sites.
There was not an immediate benefit in recruiting the students from the programme. First, they were too young and it would be another ten years before they could be eligible recruits. Atlas Copco has an open-ended recruitment policy, thus the important thing was to influence the career or study choices that are made at a young age, such as technological choices for both boys and girls. There were also the prospect of teachers and supervisors becoming good ambassadors to future generations of students.
A project leader from the Personnel Department in the Tools division managed the programme on a part-time basis; however, every division with operations in Stockholm was involved. Employees in different departments were involved as trainers and mentors.
A programme was initiated containing the following activities over a six-month period, including: a kick-off meeting and a company visit to the school, information on the company and environmental issues and study visits in technology development, marketing, sales and services.
The programme was constructed to allow students to see the process flow in the company from development to services and maintenance.
Two students participated in practical working experience at Atlas Copco. An evaluation of the programme was conducted in May 2006.
The responsible participants from Personnel consider the programme to be successful so far. They emphasise the following important factors:
- The necessity of having one coordinator on each side to ensure a smooth operation.
- The school and good management from the principal, i.e. to have the courage to make selections.
- Students have been able to meet a number of different employees with different backgrounds.
- Corporate social responsibility in the manner of the business code stabilises the project.
- There has been some good publicity about the project – newspaper articles, articles on the website of the employer confederation, etc.
- The municipality and its culture is very important. Botkyrka is active in many areas and was selected as ‘Quality Municipality of the Year’ in 2004.
The initiative, from the company perspective, is small in scope; six students for less than one year interacted with the company on eight occasions. This scope fits well with the company culture on change; ‘Advance in small steps.’ The plan is to make this project operational and long term, but to keep it on this low scale. To double or triple the number of students might be too much and demand, for instance, a full time project leader.
Although the project is considered more of an employer initiative, representatives of the unions show a positive attitude, though they have not been very active.
If segregation is to be eliminated, the process needs to start early, at the time when young people are impressionable. One company provides a very small part of the contact between schools and working life. There is a national system in which students receive two weeks of working practice in a company. This project could be seen as a development of this system through:
- More advance planning between the school and the company.
- The company taking on a larger responsibility in mentoring and training, leading to the possibilities of a greater impact in the company itself.
- Training, information and practice.
- Students working together and reflecting among themselves as a group.
For this kind of project to be successful on a broader base, of course more than seven companies and one municipality are required. These kinds of problems, based on segregated areas or municipalities like Botkyrka, are not located just in Stockholm but are in many more areas. The link between the municipalities and active companies are necessary ingredients in moving this initiative further.
Exemplary and contextual factors
Efforts to link business, working life and schools together have been made by both schools and companies. Often, this has been merely an exchange of general information between officers from companies or confederations and schools. Schools have often been reluctant to let the companies ‘go deep’ into the schools. This project shows, on a small scale, the possibilities of finding new ways of interaction. The new shaping of the labour market in the rising knowledge society with high educational demands, the risk of exclusion in segregated areas both from education and jobs and the general need to link future supply and demand on the labour market are some important motives.
Per Tengblad, AB & ATK Arbetsliv, Stockholm