EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Basell, Italy: Increasing the labour market participation of underrepresented groups – young people


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increasing labour market participation of underrepresented groups

Basell, a company in the chemical sector, introduced a CAT (fixed-term contract) with a view to offering young people on-the-job training and an opportunity to develop their skills, as well as furthering the career development of skilled workers. CAT consists of theoretical lessons, a placement with a company and a fixed-term contract. The pilot project has since turned into a stable means of access to employment. Fifty young workers per year enter the company through this channel.

Organisational background

Basell Polyolefins Spa operates in the chemical sector. Basell is the world’s largest producer of polypropylene and advanced polyolefin products, a leading supplier of polyethylene and catalysts, and a global leader in the development and licensing of polypropylene and polyethylene processes. With research and development activities in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region, Basell is continuing a technological heritage that dates back to the beginning of the polyolefins industry. With its joint ventures, Basell has manufacturing facilities around the world and sells products in over 120 countries.

In Italy, Basell has a workforce of almost 1,400 employees. About 1,000 of them work at the Ferrara plant (25% of whom are women), the others work in the Milan offices (company headquarters), Terni and Brindisi. At Basell Ferrara, more than 70% of the employees conduct research activities at the very important research centre ‘G.Natta’.

At Ferrara, the unitary workplace union structure, RSU (Rappresentanza Sindacale Unitaria) consists of a total of 20 representatives (18 men and 2 women). The union density is about 55% to 60%, and Basell is a member of the employer’s association Federchimica, affiliated with Confindustria

Description of the Initiative

The main task of Basell R&D in Ferrara is to carry out research, which is why the company believes it is very important to be innovative, in order to keep up high product quality, processes and technologies, as well as being competitive on the labour market.

In 1996, Montell (now Basell) in Ferrara launched the pilot project ‘First experience contracts’ (now called CAT- fixed-term contract) in collaboration with the Centre for Research, Documentation and Studies (CDS). Periodically, CDS performs an analysis on how the initiative is developing. CAT was the result of an agreement between Montell and the trades unions to stimulate an innovative approach in human resource management. Currently, the CAT project has become a set part of the company’s employment policy. Basell organises the training courses with the support of the Training Consortium of Ferrara, (Consorzio Provinciale Formazione di Ferrara). The Consorzio Provinciale Formazione (CPF) is a consortium of companies from the diverse municipalities in Ferrara. The consortium operates to provide both vocational training services and retraining for companies in the territory.

The CAT project comprises the following elements:

Theory lessons: one month long, five days a week, eight hours a day. Experts in the chemical sector and employees of Basell deliver the theory lessons. The aim is to match the knowledge and the capacities of the group of participants.

A traineeship at Basell: this lasts two to three months, throughout this period, participants get to know the practical problems of working in a company.

Fixed-term contract: after the placement period, all participants receive a fixed-term contract. The employees already present in the company tutor the participants. This improves employee participation in the work organisation and strengthens the team’s working capacity. Initially, the contract was drafted for a duration of nine months, then 12 months and at present it is 18 months. The advantage of a nine-month contract was the chance for the participants to interrupt their studies for exactly one year (the sum of the theory lessons, the placement and the duration of the contract) between high school and university. The employees considered the nine-month contract to be too short, because once the participant had begun to learn on their own, they had to leave and tutor a new youngster and thus the employer’s training load became too heavy.

Work organisation flexibility is very important; the so-called ‘professional pump’ system is used, i.e. the new participant enters as a part of a team, the other employees move up one level in order for a senior worker, who has the most experience, to leave the system. It allows the company to set the senior employee with a high level of internal skills and experience on new or additional activities. This would not be practicable otherwise, as the company would have difficulty in finding find a worker with so much experience. In the system, employees from the team feel very challenged and motivated as they move up one rung and perform more important tasks. In addition, they do the work without their most experienced senior and at the same time tutor a youngster.

The Training Consortium of Ferrara has the task of screening the possible candidates. Before the start of the CAT project, a Joint Committee, comprised of six employee representatives and six technical experts from Basell, was appointed to control the transparency of all the procedures. Since Basell’s aim is to promote the participation of the young people in the labour market, the participants, mainly high school graduates, are all less than 29 years old. Recently the policy has also addressed university graduates.

The Joint Committee follows the project from the selection stage and monitors the whole period. At the end of the contract, the Joint Committee prepares a ranking list that remains ‘active’ for 18 months. If the company decides to employ people with an open-ended contract, those people will be chosen from the list according to their rank.

In 2000, after four years of experience of Basell, a Local Action Plan, ‘Palo’ (Piano di Azione Locale per l’Occupazione) was underwritten by the entrepreneurial associations, trades unions, institutional bodies and by all the municipalities of the Province of Ferrara. The plan provided for an extension of the CAT project to all the local institutions of Ferrara, in order to involve more than 60 companies. It has also been extended to four additional provinces (Bologna, Reggio Emilia, Ravenna and Forlì).


In 1996, the CAT project started as a pilot project but became a fixed part of the company’s employment policy. The project has also become a reference model for other firms. Currently, more than 700 young people have been integrated into the labour market, and the project involves over 100 firms that adopted similar projects.

The CAT project provides an innovative way to increase the participation of young people in the labour market. The selected participants are more motivated because they know from the beginning that they will have an 18 month contract. The project can be seen as a ‘soft’ transition from leaving school to joining a company, and it may be a formula to switch between school and work for a period of time.

The ‘professional pump’ system is very popular among the employees who were already present in the company. The company also realises several advantages, as it is a way to invest in work quality; the most experienced workers can develop other activities where a high level of professional skills is needed. In addition, if the company decides to hire a person on an open-ended contract, they can choose from a ranking list of people who have already had experience in their company.

According to CDS, employability increases for the people that followed the CAT project, they have less difficulty in finding their first job compared with those who did not participate.

Exemplary and contextual factors

The CAT project introduced an innovative way of integrating young people into the labour market. The project has been proven to increase the participants’ employability. It encourages flexibility in the work organisation and enhances the development of the company’s innovative activities. Currently, Basell has started the twenty-third CAT module, with the participation of about 30 young people (half of whom are women).

Maite Tapia, Volker Telljohan, Fondazione Istituto per il Lavoro, Bologna

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