Eni Group, Italy: Fostering employability
In July 2002, Eni, Emcef (European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers’ Federation) and the Italian trade unions signed an agreement aimed at defining an experimental European learning programme in order to develop and improve intercultural communication among the diverse production sites. The learning programme has been offered to 140 employees from central and eastern Europe, who differ with respect to qualifications, age, nationality, professional status, cultural context and workplace.
Eni is an Italian-owned integrated energy multinational operating in the oil, natural gas, electricity generation, petrochemicals, engineering and oilfield service sectors through its various divisions and companies. It was established by the Italian government in 1953 to promote and develop a national energy strategy. In 1992, Eni became a joint stock company and in 1995 it began a process of privatisation. Currently, Eni is an international company active in around 70 countries with a staff of 72,258 employees (40,192 in Italy and 32,066 abroad), about 15% of whom are women. In Italy, the workforce structure is divided as follows: 25% (senior) managers, 50% white collar, 25% blue collar. Abroad, 43% of the employees are white collar, 49% blue collar and about 7% are (senior) managers. The head offices are located in Rome and Milan. The management is exclusively entrusted to the board of directors, which is the central element of Eni’s corporate governance system.
Industrial relations are represented within a consolidated and structured system and provide efficient and consistent support to the group’s strategic choices and to the completion of the reorganisation processes. Eni is a member of the employer association Federchimica, affiliated to Confindustria. Union density is 48.9%.
Description of the initiative
The idea of a European experimental learning project on inter-culturalism was launched on 4 July 2002 at the annual meeting of Eni’s European Works Council (EWC) at Munich, which at the time was the focal point of important activities for Eni, particularly the business activities of the refining and marketing division in Central-Eastern Europe. During this meeting, Eni, the three Italian trade union federations of chemical workers (Filcea-Cgil, Femca-Cisl, Uilcem-Uil) and Emcef underwrote an agreement outlining the first commitment by the parties to European lifelong learning.
A work group was set up to implement this initiative – more specifically, with the task of defining the project objectives, content, participants and timescales. The group was formed by the European Works Council (the coordinator and two delegates) in addition to the industrial relations department, Eni Corporate University (ECU), the human resources development department and the refining and marketing head office personnel department. During the series of meetings of the work group, it was considered appropriate for the initiative to focus on two distinct groups of participants. The first were members of international work groups; the second were those involved in day-to-day activities requiring frequent contact with colleagues from the Italian head office or from other subsidiaries.
Given the experimental nature of the whole initiative, the list of participants could not be exhaustive and was limited to 140 colleagues who showed the greatest need for preparation in internationalisation (one-quarter were women).
Central-Eastern Europe was chosen as the ideal geographical area for implementing the project due to a series of distinctive characteristics that make it a virtual ‘laboratory of diversity’:
- the presence of companies that differ in size, business, history and external context;
- territorial size, stretching from the North Sea to Romania;
- the presence of EU countries and Eastern European countries that are candidates for joining the EU, with all the imaginable implications and synergies in terms of history, cultures and different stages of development;
- the heterogeneous nature of those involved in terms of nationality, hierarchical level, professional level, reference culture, age, working attitudes, etc.
The Eni pilot project was experimentally launched in November 2003 at nine subsidiaries of the R&M (refining and marketing) division operating in Central-Eastern Europe (Austria, Benelux, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland).
The programme was made up of four modules for a total of 9,500 hours of training:
- the knowledge of the strategy and activity of the Eni Group;
- intercultural team management;
- multicultural communications skills;
- e-learning of English and Italian languages.
The first module helped to reinforce the knowledge of and the sense of belonging to the group. The second was focused on the awareness of the impact of different cultures and the management to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making in a multicultural group. The module on multicultural communication skills made it possible to establish a conscious relationship between individuals and took diversity into account. It aimed at the awareness of both one’s own personal culture and diversity in order to achieve the capability to construct relational networks. Since the knowledge of a common language constitutes the first fundamental step towards satisfactory collaboration between individuals, the fourth module was considered useful.
The three representatives of the Eni EWC, representing the trade union side, took part in designing, monitoring and the final evaluation of the programme. At the end of the training (June 2004), each participant filled in a questionnaire in which mostly positive results came to light, although some participants had technical problems with e-learning (concerning the availability of the internet during working time).
Owing to its success, the Eni Group and the trade unions developed a second training programme. This time it took place in France from October to December 2005 at Saipem SA (a subsidiary company). Almost 300 employees (eight Italians working in France, four Italians working in Italy and more than 250 French employees) took part in the programme, over one-third of whom were women. This time, e-learning was excluded from the training. Hence, the funds that became available by removing the fourth module were used to increase the number of participants.
Multicultural groups, as compared with monocultural groups, have a higher risk of failure as well as greater management difficulties, but it is also true and has been demonstrated that in the long run they can assure better results and a greater rate of innovation. Learning to manage multicultural teams efficiently is therefore a strategic factor for transnational companies like Eni.
The lifelong learning programme on intercultural aspects pursued the goal of fostering:
- individual skills of taking on behaviours that are coherent to a multicultural organisation;
- a corporate capacity of fostering a friendly climate to facilitate those behaviours;
- internal cohesion;
- corporate identity;
- information and knowledge circulation;
- language skills.
The great amount of feedback received, whether structurally (via interviews with those directly involved and the situations established at the levels of participation of the various modules) or spontaneously (through the continuous dialogue between company managers and the personnel involved), has certainly proven to be key to the programme’s success; this is due more than anything else to the training experts (Eni Corporate University together with external teachers), who skilfully interpreted and conveyed the objectives to the people for whom the project was intended.
By developing a creative and spontaneous ability for initiative, the unions and, in particular, the European Works Council representing the individuals involved virtually ‘challenged’ the company to fulfil the multiplicity of those individual and collective needs that can be met within an organised work environment. Thus, working alongside the unions in order to achieve a common goal has been another key to its success.
This experimental programme did not remain an isolated experience but has already had a second edition.
Exemplary and contextual factors
The Eni Group develops the capabilities and competencies and guarantees the employability of its workers throughout the innovative learning programme on interculturality. The initiative taken by Eni and the trade unions, working in an environment composed of different cultures, values and mentalities, is designed to develop interpersonal abilities, language skills and team management, to improve both the personal and the professional competencies and to enhance employees’ communication capabilities.
Maite Tapia, Volker Telljohan, Fondazione Istituto per il Lavoro, Bologna