OKG, Sweden: Fostering employability
OKG produces electric energy at its nuclear plant in Oscarshamn. The group supports competence development through a competence assurance system and a local agreement. The employees have regular training for five to 10 days a year. On top of this, they receive support for advanced training (days off and course materials and travel expenses for long-distance training). All this is decided between the employee and the line manager.
The OKG Group runs three nuclear reactors on the peninsula of Simpevarv on the east coast of Sweden. It also runs the Clab, a storing facility for used nuclear waste. OKG produces over 10% of Swedish electricity – 17.5 billion kilowatt hours. Since 1993 it has been owned by Sydkraft, which since 2004 is 54% owned by E.ON Sweden and 45% owned by Fortum. The electricity produced is distributed to its owners according to the ownership percentage.
There are 825 employees, 80% of whom are men and 20% women. About 30% of the staff have a college degree or above. The company is in the midst of a competence shift due to a number of employees retiring over the next several years. Consequently, there is a chance to bring in more highly educated recruitments, replacing people with only two or three years of high school education. Most employees belong to white-collar unions such as SIF (technicians and administrative staff), Ledarna (line managers) and CIF (civil engineers). Sixty employees are organised in the Electricians Union, a blue-collar union.
The basic business model is customer oriented towards the energy buyers in the owner companies and SKB (an organiser of nuclear waste operations). The objective is to move towards process-oriented work and constant improvements based on monitoring through key figures. Proactive security work has a high priority.
The organisation is built on resource groups (nuclear operations and maintenance) and cross-functions. A number of activities are run in projects, such as technological modernisation, security development, rebuilding, etc.
An important aspect of the competence strategy in OKG is first and foremost the security demands put on the nuclear industry, defined as risk assessment, understanding and behaviour, all factors that need to be reinforced by competence development. Another important aspect is the supply problem – an elderly age structure results in recruitment problems, as the nuclear industry is due to be phased out over the next 10 years.
Description of the initiative
Competence development at OKG is based on a competence assurance process. With the support of an IT system (CAT), managers identify the need of competence in each unit (based on assignment and tasks) against the existing competence. The competence is defined in the following competence areas: technological, administrative and organisational. Each individual is appraised on four different levels:
- basic knowledge/needs assistance;
- good knowledge/manages all relevant tasks;
- deep knowledge/great experiences – teaches others;
- excellence, unique knowledge.
After that, an analysis is performed identifying the gap between future needs and the existing competence. This is done once a year together with a staffing plan built on the staffing needs for resource units and cross-functional groups. In this, space for time off and training is considered. The needs are specified for the next five years. Measures that are being planned consist of:
- competence development – not just individual training and courses, but team-oriented activities and participation in development projects, etc. are also seen as competence development;
- competence transformation to assure strategic competence in the event of mobility and/or lay-offs and redundancy;
- competence change through, for instance, taking on a new position.
Apart from the above, recruitment and redeployment are also seen as an important part of competence measures.
A number of training courses are being bought or directly carried out by the HR department, containing operational necessities such as pumps and melding, security (radiation, fire, accidents, etc.), new administrative systems and so on. Internal operational training lasts approximately five to 10 days a year. The decisions are all being made by line managers based on personal reviews and individual development plans.
Supportive measures for competence development for more individual development are:
- leave of absence without salary for full-time training (this is also secured by law);
- leave of absence with salary for three to five days for part-time training (based on a managerial decision);
- support for literature and travel expenses (long-distance training).
There is also a local agreement on competence development between management and the unions, which, among other things, confirms the process and stipulates that all individuals have the right to apply for resources for personal development.
In 2001, a specific project was launched for the maintenance department. This unit consists of 150 employees in total and is a supportive unit for production. Of the 150 employees, a number of them have a low education level – basically nine years of schooling. Through the competence assurance process, a general need for increasing basic knowledge for a number of the maintenance personnel was discovered. The purpose of the initiative was to encourage continuing learning at the workplace and to give personnel with low basic education the possibility to develop new competence and to take on more advanced tasks. It came as an initiative from the HR department and people were asked during the personal reviews if they wanted to participate. For the first round, 13 people were appointed. At that time, there was also a possibility of getting a higher position as a technician after the training. The training was supposed to lead to authorisation in some areas.
A total of 40 days were set aside – half of it during working time, half of it during the participants’ free time. Supportive financing was also given from the European Social Fund.
The training took part in a special training building on the premises and consisted of courses in study techniques as well as core subjects such as Swedish, English and mathematics, but also more operational-specific courses (maintenance, technical and administrative systems, etc.). The last part of the training was carried out by practising the operational work in control rooms, etc. The programme was developed together with the managers and the participants were also given the opportunity to influence it. The theoretical parts of the core subjects were carried out in accordance with the national curriculum.
In total, 30 people, mostly men, both younger and older, went through the training over a period of three years.
OKG’s competence strategy is firmly based on high demands on security, which is understandable for a nuclear plant. Competence among employees is crucial in the security work. This leads to a general high level of competence development on a permanent basis for operational reasons. One union representative remarks that this is a part of the culture. From a management perspective, investment in competence development is a cheap investment, considering the alternative. The problem from a union standpoint is therefore not so much the employer attitude, but rather the difficulties getting initiatives from the employees. For the union, competence development is not just a responsibility for management, but should be a responsibility for the individual.
The importance of competence development also seems to be well accepted and established down to first line management, which is crucial, given that operational managers play an important role in the competence assurance process. They are the ones who have personnel responsibility, perform reviews and analysis as well as overseeing a budget for competence development.
The special initiative for maintenance personnel also seems to have had a good effect on those who went through the training course. The HR official points to effects not just on an increased ability in writing and other formal competences – equally important has been the growth in self-confidence and people taking a greater involvement in the organisation. Many of the participants were somewhat sceptical before the training started, mainly due to fear of ‘going back to school’, especially those with bad experiences from their own time in school. Some of the participants have continued with higher studies. Many of them have also taken on the role of ambassadors for training among their fellow workers.
The special initiative has now fulfilled its purpose. The competence in the maintenance department is now on a higher level. Other challenges will follow – competence transformation will probably increase in importance due to a rise in retirements. The new recruits will have a higher level of education to start with.
Exemplary and contextual factors
The OKG case is illustrative of a company with a solid basis in a competence development culture and a well-established structure and process, focusing both on broad and deep development. An important factor is the high security demands on the operations. By committing themselves to an initiative at the ‘low end of the competence scale’, OKG not only gets better use of the personnel performing more advanced tasks, but also increases the participants’ labour market value.
Per Tengbland, AB & ATK Arbetsliv, Stockholm