Corus, the Netherlands: Increasing the labour market participation of underrepresented groups – young people
Corus is one of the last industrial companies with its own training school. The school focuses on the recruitment of young workers in order to compensate for the outflow of older personnel and to contribute to a decrease in unemployment among young people. Young people who finish the training satisfactorily receive a nationally-recognised diploma and can start to work in the company.
Corus in IJmuiden is part of the Corus group, one of the largest steel companies in the world, producing 6.5 million tons of steel annually. Of the 51,000 worldwide employees, about 10,000 work in IJmuiden and the average age is 45 years. About half of the employees do day work and the other half works in shift work. The workforce is largely male dominated; only 6% are female. The goal of management is to offer employees pleasant jobs, with sufficient possibilities to learn, good working conditions and participation in decision making. This vision is propagated in various publications and in monthly meetings between management and employees.
Corus is divided into 17 autonomous units, each with its own HR-department. The central department HR Shared Services supports the local departments and is engaged in personnel recruitment, job rating, industrial relations and administration. Corus in The Netherlands has a Central Works Council, as well as various local works councils. Conditions of employment are negotiated with the trades unions. Union density is about 48%.
In 2000 the Corus EWC was established. It is a joint management/employee representative body and currently involves 35 employee representatives (19 from the UK, 9 from the Netherlands, 2 from Germany, and 1 each from Denmark, France, Norway, Spain and Sweden) and nine recognised national trade union officials. The EWC meets twice a year to discuss a relatively extensive range of trans-national issues.
Description of the initiative
As the average age of the Corus employees is quite high, it is important to recruit new employees. In addition, Corus’s goal is to reach the top three of the best steel companies in the world. This goal is registered in a strategic plan, ‘World Class IJmuiden’. To realize this plan, the education of the employees must be at a certain level. This goal, together with a corporate social responsibility attitude in management, led to the policy of the company training centre, which is to recruit young people and offer them free training and a nationally-recognised diploma. If the recruits finish the training successfully, Corus guarantees them a permanent job. The company, therefore, advertises in bars and discotheques frequented by young people, and introduces the company to pupils of schools in the region.
Every year the head of the recruitment and selection department visits the managers of the various units to determine what kind of personnel will be needed in two years’ time. This assessment is then taken into account. The Corus training centre is also occupied with courses and training of higher educated people, but this discussion is limited to the group of young people. This year (2006), training is offered for process operators, energy operators, stevedores, maintenance mechanics and electricians.
New apprentices must be between 16 and 23 years old and have successfully completed VMBO-education (vocational school) or the third year of HAVO-education (general school), both with sufficient marks for mathematics and physics. A physical and psychological test is part of the selection procedure.
New apprentices receive training at the company training centre and on the job. They receive a salary during their training period of about 10% higher than minimum wage. After training almost 100% of the apprentices stay at Corus to work in regular jobs.
New insights in occupational training show that many apprentices have an aversion towards theoretical learning. The emphasis, therefore, is on learning by doing. Accordingly, when compared to previous training, apprentices spend more time in the company than in the classroom. The apprentices start with 20 weeks of basic training, followed by 30 weeks of training on the job in several work units. The last 20 weeks of the program consists of specialised training.
Since apprentices spend more time on the shop floor, supervisors have to work for a longer time with inexperienced workers who require more support and coaching. Coaching requires different skills and attitudes. Therefore, the training centre is in close consultation with the working units to discuss new learning methods and their consequences. Supervisors also receive training in coaching. A monitoring system has been started by the training centre to check if the former apprentices do well in the company.
Corus training centre is completely funded by the Corus Group. The training centre resides in Human Resource Services, part of the HRM department. The initiative is formalised through a labour agreement with the trades unions. The total training budget of Corus in IJmuiden is 25 million euro, which is 1% of total income. The group of new apprentices accounts for 30 to 40% of this budget, the rest is for training and education of employees already working at the company.
The number of apprentices varies from year to year. Starting in 2006, the average is expected to be 200 apprentices. About 95% of the apprentices are male. An average of 70% actually finish the training. It is not known if apprentices who do not finish the training easily get other jobs. Almost all apprentices who complete the training stay at Corus to work.
The Corus initiative is exemplary as it offers potential apprentices a free education, leading to a nationally-recognised diploma, a salary while training and a permanent job. This combination is unique. Most large companies have closed their company training schools due to the cost. Usually, company training does not lead to a diploma, which is recognized by other companies. In addition, the salary and the permanent job are very attractive to young people.
One of the benefits for Corus is the guarantee of an appropriate level of education of their personnel. This level is needed to realize the company’s ambition to join the top three steel companies in the world. Another important benefit is the recruitment of many young workers into a relatively old work force.
Proof of its success is that Corus does not have problems attracting new personnel, which seems to be a problem for other industries in the Netherlands. In general, companies have more problems attracting new personnel in times of recession, due to a less favourable image. During these times, potential new workers are not that eager to invest in training and education that might only qualify them to work in a possibly vanishing branch of industry. The inflow of new employees at Corus has proven to be independent of the economic situation. The Corus training centre has succeeded in educating a group that normally is not eager to study and has limited opportunities in the labour market.
Exemplary and contextual factors
The Corus initiative is exemplary as it offers potential apprentices a free education, leading to a nationally-recognised diploma, a salary while training and a permanent job. This unique combination has helped Corus to recruit young people.