EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Sick, Germany: Fostering employability


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Fostering employability

Since 1995, Sick AG, a medium-sized company producing sensors for industrial applications and process automation, has been developing a wide-ranging personnel and organisational development policy which accommodates company-specific needs while increasing the employability of its employees. The strategic development of the company as well as qualification and competence development is based on on tailored measures of human resource management and a wide range of targeted training schemes.

Organisational background

Sick AG, based in Waldkirch (Germany), is one of the world’s leading producers of sensors and sensor solutions for industrial applications and technology and is the market leader in both factory and process automation. Some 92% of the rapidly growing and expanding company is owned by the Sick family, whereas the rest is primarily owned by employees.

By the end of 2005, Sick AG had 1,616 employees, the group in Germany had 2,758 and the worldwide group had 4,095 employees. In Sick AG, 38.2% of employees are women, 11.9% of whom work part time. The average age is 38.8 years and the average length of service is 11 years. The rate of absenteeism is 2.75% and staff turnover is 4.2%. On average, the qualification level is very high.

At Sick AG, six out of 17 works council members are female. Two employee representatives are members of the supervisory board. Sick is a member of the employers’ federation in the metal industry.

The landmark further training agreement for the metal industry in Baden-Württemberg applies. Sick AG has a works agreement on further training and e-learning.

Description of the initiative

Since 1995, lifelong learning has been targeted at the entire workforce with the aim of fostering change and growth. In a high-tech company in particular, the spirit of change and adaptability in its workforce is of high value.

As a result, qualification and competence development policies are fully embedded in the company management strategy and are taken into account in the formulation and implementation of any new strategic decision. The prompt and regular involvement of the works council is a key element to legitimise the process and ensure its implementation.

In order to combine personnel and organisational planning, two strategic commissions – competence boards and human resource planning workshops – were set up. The strategic competence boards comprise experts at the top management level of all subsidiaries, divisions and areas of the group. They analyse the development for the next few years, discuss the future direction of the company and the future skills and qualifications needed. The results of the competence board’s meetings are laid down in minutes which are analysed by the personnel department in view of qualifications and competences development and for future management training.

The human resource planning workshops are initiated from the personnel department at the beginning of each year with all divisions or departments to discuss future strategies and the implications in terms of qualification, further training or recruitment with a long-term focus.

Other instruments are also put in place for organisational and personnel development:

  • Employee–supervisor dialogue: Since 1995, the annual competencies development talk between employee and supervisor has been developed to jointly clarify the need for further training and feedback on its effectiveness. Prior to these talks, the personnel department meets with division managers to discuss qualification needs and training programmes. The strategic personnel planning is a minimum of three years. The assessment of the employee is considered in the provision of further training.
  • Occupational mobility schemes: Geographical and divisional mobility within the company has recently been introduced and the component employability is currently being developed.
  • Management feedback system: Strategic leadership development is based on the implementation of a management feedback system which includes occupational, personal and social competences. Some 50% to 60% of management is recruited internally. The fast growth of the company and the ambition to support innovation and change require a certain degree of external recruitment.
  • Coaching, mentoring and counselling: One aspect of cultural development is the integration of new employees. To this end, supervisors are instructed to acquaint new employees with the organisation with the help of checklists provided by the personnel department. Further measures are a system of mentors, seminars and special courses for new recruits. Several meetings take place during the probation period.

In 2005, Sick spent EUR5.9 million (an increase of 12.2% from 2004) on qualification and further training in order to prevent skills shortages and to improve the adaptability of its workforce. The share of employees participating in internal and external training programmes was 60.9% and the average number of days of further training per employee was four. The average cost of vocational training (encompassing all measures) per employee was EUR818.20.

The company-owned Sick Academy provides internal and external training programmes for tailored qualifications and competences. The Academy offers around 400 courses or seminars annually. Besides general courses, targeted programmes for special groups of employees and tasks are developed. Special training programmes are provided for managers and ‘high potentials’, complemented by an international job rotation programme. Within the Sick Academy, the Summer University is targeted at senior managers.

The Academy involves about 50% internal trainers and 50% external trainers. The involvement of external experts is aimed at stimulating new ideas and innovation. Management training is 90% external training.

Special training programmes are also designed for low-skilled workers. For instance, the company developed the qualification concept of ‘storage worker as logistic worker’ in cooperation with the regional chamber of commerce based on new centralised European high-tech storage. The initiative stems from the head of the department. Qualified storage personnel were not available on the labour market. The predominantly unqualified participants had 240 training units on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings during their free time. In line with the works agreement on further training, employees have to invest 50% free time for training measures which lead to a new qualification. The training programme is completed by a recognised certificate. Currently, a similar measure is being developed for employees in the disposition department.

Sick AG also launched a research project on the best ways of learning in different age phases as a basis for a new personnel development plan. Employees receive training until retirement age. In addition, the company has a special apprenticeship programme for young people from special schools (level below general public schools).

Another instrument of competence development is the ‘transfer coaching’ implemented in 1999 to monitor the transfer of skills acquired during training into work practices. Two weeks after the seminar, transfer of knowledge at the concrete workplace is evaluated based on a specific questionnaire.

Training is evaluated, monitored and adapted by the Qualification Commission – which was already established prior to the landmark sectoral agreement – which is comprised of three management representatives and three works council members.


Sick AG provides a wide-ranging personnel and organisational development programme that combines tailored instruments for qualification and competency development and vocational training for all employees, regardless of their qualification level, job or age. As a learning organisation, Sick implemented a lifelong learning concept at a very early stage. The comprehensive vocational training programme and a learning culture open to change support the excellent position of the company and the development of innovative technologies. The well-designed and targeted approach guarantees the needed qualifications, skills and competences in a long-term perspective.

A further aspect is the balance between qualification and the skills needs of the company and the interests of the employees. Personnel management is directed towards independent, highly qualified employees that are able to bring forward innovation and change. In its personnel policy, Sick combines personnel, organisational, leadership and cultural development.

The learning culture is accompanied by a conspicuous investment in training, which has constantly increased over the last years. The long planning horizon of several years and various targeted human resource instruments guarantee a smooth development of the company.

Key factors of success are the cooperative industrial relations and the early and full involvement of the works council. The impact of the further training collective agreement in the sector was limited, as the works agreement on further training and the practices were already more far-reaching.

Anni Weiler, AWWW GmbH, Göttingen

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