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A multifaceted HR strategy, including flexibility, internal promotions, overtime banking and an image makeover, has helped technology giant ThyssenKrupp become one of the planet’s most enticing employers for graduate talent, according to its chief personnel officer, Ralph Labonte.

The German conglomerate realised it had an “image problem” when its CEO attended a recruitment conference and attracted little attention from promising graduates, says Labonte in the new strategy + business reader, Capturing the People Advantage.

The company makes very few “end products”, Labonte says. “This means we have to explain our place in the business world to potential job candidates. This isn’t easy… People have short memories.”

The management team, therefore, realised it had to rethink its recruitment strategy in order to attract, retain and develop graduates and remain competitive in a talent-starved job market.

HR, he says, had to move beyond treating personnel development as a part-time job and provide the company with a steady stream of junior talent and skilled technicians, and step up internal training.

ThyssenKrupp subsequently developed a strategy that pushed it up the global employer of choice league table for young engineers, from 29th position in 2000 to 12th currently.

The strategy involves:

  • an image campaign, including a multi-year advertising campaign that outlines “the amazing things that happen because of the work of our employees”.The company regularly attends career fairs, cooperates with universities and sponsors sporting events and teams. High school students interested in maths and the natural sciences are invited to complete projects at summer camps.

    “We can never stop presenting, advertising and explaining ourselves,” Labonte says;

  • professional development, whether through the “corporate management development” division or training offered to young recruits.Graduates enter the company knowing they will become highly trained, Labonte says, and young managers know “that we’re prepared to invest in their futures”;
  • non-traditional hiring, such as the creation of careers for talented people, as opposed to looking for talent to fill specific roles.”When we find great people, we’ll hire them first and then look around to see what they should do”;
  • flexibility and overtime deals, such as lifelong overtime accounts.”Employees who put in overtime now can save the hours in an account and redeem them later in their careers,” Labonte says. “For instance, you could retire six months early using the hours accumulated in such an account. And the company benefits from deferring the wages.”

    In some sectors, young workers without such long-term goals can collect hours in an overtime account and take days off work on full pay when workloads are low;

  • a code of conduct at the corporate level that stipulates exactly how managers are expected to interact with employees. Discrimination is forbidden and workers are guaranteed “living wages”. Primary and secondary suppliers are also expected to adhere to the guidelines.”We are not shy about firing managers who break these rules. Because we enforce the code, our employees all around the world know they can trust us”; and
  • internal promotion, with 80 per cent of executives promoted from within the organisation. Succession plans are regularly reviewed and updated and “high-potential” managers are encouraged to rotate across the organisation’s five business segments.
Rotation program

Also speaking in the strategy + business reader, Saudi Telecom Company’s (STC’s) HR vice-president, Salah Al-Zamil, says that a management rotation program is key to internal leadership development.

All promising junior managers at STC are expected to spend time “in the field”, in finance, in the technical departments and in market-facing functions.

There was resistance to the strategy at first, Al-Zamil says, but managers returned to their former departments “wearing new hats and making recommendations for improvements”.

“It is sinking in that this is really a career development tool,” he says.

“And now it’s company policy that 25 per cent of our organisation should rotate every year.”

Graduate recruits and other newcomers to the company work within a more “standard framework”, Al-Zamil says, but are still offered the flexibility to work in a variety of roles to increase their knowledge base and improve their long-term career prospects.


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