Randstad, Germany: Towards a balanced flexibility
Randstad, Germany’s biggest provider of temporary agency workers, has implemented an innovative training programme for its unskilled workers in response to customer demands and demographic requirements. The policy has been customised to take participants’ needs into account and benefits from the support and knowledge offered by recognised German training bodies.
Randstad is currently Germany’s largest provider of temporary agency staff.. A Dutch company, Randstad is present in 20 countries and has over 2,670 offices. In Germany, Randstad controls around 10% of the temporary agency market, which makes it the leading provider of temporary agency staff. Present in Germany for over 37 years, Randstad was one of the first temporary agencies to sign a collective agreement, concluded with trade union Verdi in 2001. It has had works council representation since 1972 and has a European works council. Randstad prides itself on being a progressive employer in a branch often associated with bad publicity. With a turnover of EUR 1,3 billion in 2006, Randstad Germany has over 12,000 customers. It employs just over44,000 people, of whom 1,400 are internal staff. In 2007, Randstad Germany was voted one the best places to work by the ‘Great place to work’ institute.
The company’s business strategy is based on developing what it refers to as ‘concentrated know-how’ in the following core branches: automotive, logistics, manufacturing, IT/media, office and finance, and process industries. This strategy of providing semi-skilled and skilled personnel has forced Randstad to consider innovative ways of meeting its customers’ requirements. In response, Randstad's German subsidiary has focused on developing the qualifications of its less skilled employees.
Details of the initiative
In January 2006, Randstad started a pilot project, the ‘Modular Qualifications’ (Modulare Qualifizierung) project, in 20 of its German branches, aimed at improving the qualifications and status of its unskilled employees. Known today as ‘Lernen im Job’ (Learning on the job), the project is an innovative and forward-looking response to Germany’s skills shortage. Although unemployment remains high in Germany, at around five million, according to Randstad, one million jobs still cannot be filled; temporary agencies are particularly affected by this mismatch between the demand for and supply of skills. The company estimates that 40% of temporary agency workers possess either limited qualifications or none. Moreover, the demographic problems facing Germany indicate that this labour market bottleneck for skills is likely to get worse.
In order to remain competitive (to keep providing customers with the required personnel), management at Randstad’s German subsidiary first began to put in place a training programme in 2004. Later in the year, and into 2005, Randstad proceeded to define the criteria for the main tasks to be undertaken. This was done together with labour market experts, its works council, one of its customers, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Koblenz and the Federal Institute for Vocational Education Training (Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung). This process of involving key internal and external actors had a double benefit, both drawing on important source of expertise and ensuring a certain degree of prestige for the programme.
The programme aims to improve the skills both of the company’s current workforce and of potential, currently unemployed, workers. It focuses on warehouse and office jobs. In both cases, the aim is to provide training, with a view to promoting unskilled employees to the position of assistant. Central to the programme is the notion of on-the-job training, with an initial emphasis on practical rather than theoretical knowledge: this is because a central part of the training plan is designed to overcome individuals’ reservations about training itself (reservations resulting from a poor personal experience of education). By structuring the programme this way, and enabling individuals to gain a sense of achievement, Randstad hopes to improve their self-esteem. Trainees are paid while they are improving their skills, and the training process does not place the participant under any time pressure (an element that can often undermine an individual’s commitment to a training programme).
On entering the programme, participants are presented with a qualification pass that outlines the main tasks relating to both jobs. In the case of both warehouse and office positions, individuals are required to attain a comprehensive range of job-specific skills.
In order to validate the participant’s training, Randstad asks customers to indicate which training elements were completed during the participant’s placement. To support this process, the company has produced a questionnaire to guide the customer in their evaluation. (For some modules, such as those dealing with social competence, a minimum of six months’ employment is required.)
- be recognised as having completed a module, participants are required to take a written and an oral test. Once an individual has successfully fulfilled all the requirements, passed the test and received a satisfactory response from the customer, their pass is stamped for each module completed. An individual's previous placements prior to participating in the programme can also be taken into consideration. Once an individual has attained all the relevant modules, they can sit the exam of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammertages, IHK) for office and warehouse assistants. Participants get support from Randstad when preparing for the exam and are presented with an IHK certificate on successfully passing the test.
The Lernen im Job programme is an innovative attempt to improve the labour position of certain groups – in particular, young people, women and migrant workers. Having first implemented a pilot project in January 2006, in which over 200 participants were involved, the positive response has led Randstad to apply the concept to all 240 of its German branches. The programme has clearly benefited from consulting key experts in the area of training. Tailored to meet the individual needs and abilities of participants, the training has been pedagogically designed to slowly build up the confidence of individuals.
This modular training system has wide-ranging benefits for Randstad, too: it will help Randstad respond to the skills demands of customers both today and in the future; moreover, the policy is expected to improve employee motivation and, it is hoped, reduce the degree of turnover often associated with temporary agency workers. The customer also appears to benefit from the programme, because of the greater commitment and skills level of the agency workers’. In addition, Randstad believes that by virtue of having access to higher-skilled workers, its market position will improve and that it will be able to increase its charges to customers.
The Lernen im Job programme could be dismissed as nothing more than a corporate promotional exercise, one designed to improve the image of an often-criticised sector. This would be a short-sighted view, however. Randstad’s ability to develop a training concept that takes into the account the pedagogical needs of the target group and to develop a validation system with recognised training bodies ensures that the programme is a serious and innovative attempt to enhance the skills of its employees as well as to improve and sustain Randstad’s position on the German market.
Exemplary and contextual factors
Randstad’s Lernen im Job programme represents a best-practice response to the labour market problems faced by temporary agencies and temporary agency workers. With the support of employee associations in Germany, the Lernen im Job programme has been available to employers in the sector. The success of the project will, however, depend on Randstad’s commitment to providing adequate support in preparing participants for the IHK exam.