KCCS, Austria: Fostering employability
Due to a lack of qualified staff and available apprentices for the job of chemical technician, the chemical production company KCCS has cooperated with two other chemical companies, Dynea Austria and Kemira, in a joint apprenticeship programme. Workers with an apprenticeship in a different profession can complete an apprenticeship on the job and the training costs are covered by the company.
KCCS provides custom manufacturing of chemical products for major chemical companies, mainly in Germany, Switzerland and the United States.
KCCS developed from the former Krems Chemie, which was bought by the international company Neste in 1997, which later became Dynea. Between 1999 and 2001, the plant underwent a restructuring process that resulted in a business park with seven companies, three of which are chemical productions, while the other four are related service companies. The chemical productions are KCCS, Dynea Austria (part of a global Finnish company with 3,000 employees, with 163 at Krems) and Kemira (a global Finnish company with 7,500 employees, with around 100 at Krems).
KCCS has 66 employees, of whom nine are female (as of April 2006). Two-thirds work in production. Forty per cent of staff are unskilled, while 25% are skilled; 20% have leaving-certificate qualifications and 15% are university educated; 92% work full time and 8% work part time; 92% have a permanent contract and 5% have a fixed-term contract, while 3% are temporary workers. The average age is 35.8 years. The works council consists of three men and one woman, representing both blue- and white-collar workers. The union density rate is 86%. The company is a member of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.
Description of the initiative
After the restructuring of the former Krems Chemie (employing around 600 people), KCCS decreased to such an extent that it was only possible to train one to two apprentices as chemical technicians (‘Chemieverfahrenstechniker’) at a time. Additionally, experience shows a drop-out rate of 50%, which further lowers the number of completed apprenticeships. Generally, chemical technicians are considered to be a rare resource. The result is a lack of apprentices and qualified staff in the chemical production companies. This was the reason for the initiation of an additional apprenticeship programme targeting the group of workers with a technical, but unsuitable, qualification (e.g. mechanics, carpenters). The idea was put forward by the works council, which is also responsible for qualification plans within the company, and was worked out by the council in cooperation with the managing director. For the implementation of the program, KCCS collaborated with the two other chemical companies (Dynea Krems and Kemira) at the same location. The three companies already cooperate in the training of ‘regular’ apprentices (testing, trial apprenticeships, selection of apprentices). They share the costs and training places of this programme.
The training programme is similar to the ‘regular’ apprenticeship as chemical technicians, with the following differences: participants already have a completed apprenticeship, but in a sector different from the chemical industry; participants do not need to go back to school, but rather attend theory lessons at the plant; and participants keep earning their regular salary instead of the lower apprentice income.
The process involved several parties. The KCCS works council initiated the programme with full backing from its managing director. Preparatory talks were held with the three heads of production as well as with the representatives of the partner companies and the trainer/lecturer responsible for the in-house theory lessons. (The trainer/lecturer happens to be a former head of production of Dynea Austria and therefore knows the production plants very well.)
The training programme consists of theory training (2.5 hours a week) and on-the-job training. Theory training is held completely in-house and may be attended during working hours. Besides theory training, another seven to eight hours of learning at home are required. Every six months there is an exam, an evaluation and an attendance check of every participant by the trainer and the works council. Completion of the programme is equivalent to the completion of a regular apprenticeship and also results in a pay rise for the now skilled worker (around EUR350 a month).
Generally, the programme is open to anyone in the defined target group. However, potential participants are identified in yearly appraisals and afterwards selected in a joint meeting of the managing director, works council and the heads of production. The involvement of the heads is important to ensure their availability and readiness in teaching the apprentices and their support when participants attend training lessons instead of working their shift.
The first round of training started in 2003 with 14 participants; another round followed in 2005 with 18 participants. The next is planned for 2007. One round takes between 1.5 to two years to complete, depending on the progress of the group. All participants are male due to the generally low female rate of workers, which is traced back to the heavy and dangerous nature of the work. Participants in the current round are between 25 and 40 years old.
In addition to the trainer, costs for books and material are covered. A preparation week at a large chemical production in Linz before the final exam of the apprenticeship and time for the exams themselves are paid, as are all other costs.
Learning from the experience of the first round of the programme, which had a high drop-out rate (only three out of 14 participants completed their apprenticeship), participants are now required to sign an agreement to attend at least 90% of the trainings (missing because of sickness, holiday or emergencies in the production will be excused) or else pay for 75% of the costs (which equals EUR150). The goal is to avoid any drop-outs, but realistically, management expects 14 of the 18 participants to complete their apprenticeship. The agreement also serves to ensure equal framework conditions for all participants, coming from three different company cultures.
The training programme of KCCS and its partners offers workers the opportunity to complete an apprenticeship in the profession they have worked in but were not properly trained for, regardless of their age.
The completion of the apprenticeship on the job offers several advantages to the workers: they can stay in their regular job with the according wage; they do not need to go back to school; and they acquire a formal qualification certificate that contributes significantly to their career perspectives and job mobility in their chosen profession. The programme does not involve any financial costs.
So far, only three (out of 14) participants have completed the apprenticeship. However, the rate is likely to rise in the current round (an expected 14 out of 18 participants) due to the training agreement introduced after the experience of the high drop-out rate in the first round.
KCCS faced its problem of having a lack of qualified staff and potential apprentices and being too small to have its own programme by cooperating with Dynea Krems und Kemira. This cooperation also has other benefits: the participants get to know colleagues from other companies and get an insight into how work is done somewhere else, which broadens their horizon and gives them new perspectives for their own career. The impact of the training is also evident in reduced numbers of work accidents and defective production charges.
The following factors are recognised as being key to the success of the programme: the high quality of the training and the practical relevance of the lessons, which are taught by an experienced trainer and former head of production of a local plant, which also allows the workers to focus on current daily issues; the high level of support from the production heads; the training agreement on sufficient attendance; and the constant monitoring of the training progress.
Exemplary and contextual factors
Three chemical companies at the same location cooperate in a joint training programme for apprentices as chemical technicians for workers with an apprenticeship in another profession. The training is free of charge for the participants and theory training is attended during working hours, though additional learning is required in the participants’ free time. All additional costs are covered by the companies.
Maria Klambauer, FORBA, Vienna