Young and Old: The Best Connection

By Dominique Alhäuser (Weidmüller Interface), Weidmüller Interface GmbH & Co. KG
12:24 PM, July 21, 2013

Actively encouraging junior staff as well as the more experienced is sustainability in action for the family-owned company Weidmüller, and it is also a way to counteract the effects of demographic change.

According to UN estimates, by 2050 the world population will total more than 9 billion, of which 22 percent will be over the age of 60. This shift in our age structure needs to be compensated for within the corporate environment. The ability and desire of older employees to work must be maintained, and the full potential of the coming generations will have to be nurtured and maximized. The SME family company Weidmüller, therefore, demonstrates its commitment using a structured and consistent approach, with its very own academy for the managerial staff of tomorrow. At the same time, it offers a special work-life balance program for its older employees.

Young or old? For Weidmüller, a family-owned company, that is not an either-or question. “We have to support our older staff in helping them to stay healthy and in retaining their enjoyment at the workplace and assisting the young ones to find their way in life and realize their full potential,” explains the Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Peter Köhler. In his opinion, it is not only immoral to count colleagues over the age of 50 as past their prime, but faced with demographic change, it is also unwise from a corporate perspective. Older colleagues have a huge wealth of experience that they bring to the daily work processes. Combined with the newest qualifications of the younger staff, this experience creates the perfect mix for a company that is dedicated to innovation and precision.

Based in Detmold, the company has maintained an academy of its own since 2003. “We have united international activities for qualifying and building knowledge in our company and transferring that knowledge to and from external institutions, universities, and partners under the umbrella of the Weidmüller Academy,” states Köhler. The academy has had an offshoot in Shanghai since 2011. It is dedicated to ensuring, for example, that the successful “dual course of studies” model takes off in Asia. Additionally, the academy cooperates with well-known universities in Germany, Asia, and across the world – for instance with the Centrum Industrial IT in Germany and the Shanghai Jiaotong University – to promote research.

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Weidmüller places particular emphasis on being involved at an early stage by providing support for solid education and making the right choices – not simply when youngsters are starting their professional lives. Every year, more than 3,000 pupils all over the world experience their first taste of a “corporate atmosphere” at Weidmüller. In 2011, the company was awarded the Hermann-Schmidt prize for its professional orientation program, which accompanies pupils on an ongoing basis starting in the 7th grade. “We harness the natural curiosity and enthusiasm of teenagers to steer them toward topics such as mathematics, natural sciences, and technology in a playful way,” explains the Managing Director Human Resources, Dr. Jürgen Ober. “According to the Association of German Engineers (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure), there are currently 98,000 vacant jobs for engineers in Germany, and the need for engineers in the future will be even greater. Investing in education is, for Weidmüller, sustainability in action,” summarizes Köhler.

With its diverse range of opportunities, Weidmüller also makes every effort to offer the right path for each candidate as they begin their work life. The company has trained apprentices for more than 60 years, and every year it accompanies more than 200 apprentices and trainees worldwide as they begin their professional lives. Alongside the classic apprenticeship for a total of 10 professions in the technical and commercial spheres, the dual course of studies and trainee program provide further attractive possibilities for an ideal start in the chosen profession. Three-month periods abroad in one of Weidmüller’s global branches are an integral part of the training plan of the 18-month trainee program. Furthermore, there are integrated “mentoring programs”: Junior staff have direct access to managers who also help them with career planning. A direct exchange of ideas promotes a culture of dialogue within the company.

“For today’s employees – whether starting work or already experienced – alongside salary, the whole package has to be just right: A motivating company culture is part of this, as is a productive work atmosphere,” states Ober. This is influenced positively by an appreciative management culture and pleasant colleagues, but also by additional fringe benefits such as individual training measures and joint sporting and leisure activities.

Measures aimed at catering to the needs of older staff are currently being developed. Opportunities tailored to older staff should help maintain performance, the ability to work, and –last but not least – the motivation of staff aged 57 and older, particularly in the years right before reaching the statutory retirement age. For example, older staff can reduce their work hours and enter into a part-time arrangement, with which they can alternate between five-day and four-day work weeks. From the age of 57, staff members are also granted two extra days of “extraordinary holiday.” With increasing age, the number of additional holiday days rises as well and allows for up to 36 days of extra holiday. Longer periods of exemption are also possible: For example, staff on part-time contracts could work full-time for three months and then take three months off.

Additional measures are also offered for the health of older staff. General examinations by doctors as well as annual eye and hearing tests and subsidies for hearing aids are part of the package. Spouses and partners can be involved in the individual planning of special fitness programs: for instance, through a grant for a holiday in a convalescence clinic or a joint cookery course for healthy eating.

The innovative activities are not only well-received by staff, they also help to counteract the impression that age is an obstacle that needs to be overcome. In fact, our program expresses our particular appreciation for older staff and their qualifications, which are hugely important for the company. Köhler emphasizes: “The difference between a good and an outstanding company are the staff: the young and the experienced – together – in one team.”

This project description was originally presented in the Global Compact International Yearbook 2013.

About the Authors
Alhäuser, Dominique

Dominique Alhäuser is responsible for corportae communications at Weidmüller Interface.

Weidmüller Interface GmbH & Co. KG

As experienced experts we support our customers and partners around the world with products, solutions and services in the industrial environment of power, signal and data. We are at home in their industries and markets
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Source: Corporate website

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect CSR Manager's editorial policy.
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