EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

MicroTEC, Germany: redeployment, training and development

About

Case study name: 
Ageing workforce
Organisation Size: 
Small
Sectors: 
Metal and Machinery
Social Dialogue: 
None
Target Groups: 
Professional/managerialSkilled Manual
Initiative Types: 
RecruitmentTrainingdevelopmentetc
Scope: 
All


Organisational background

The technologically innovative company, MicroTEC Gesellschaft für Mikrotechnologie mbH, was founded in 1996. It is a leading manufacturer in the toolless batch production of micro components and micro systems. The company’s main distribution markets are in sensor technology as well as medicine and life sciences. With locations in Duisburg and Bad Dürkheim, the company markets its products and services worldwide.

In 1996, MicroTEC started operations with five employees, who were then all aged between 25 and 40 years. Today, the company has a workforce of 25 employees (50% technicians and 50% engineers), four of whom are older than 50 years. The employees in this age group were all recruited after 2000. The overall percentage of women in the company is around 20% and 50% at management level. Four apprenticeship positions have been created since 2003.

Since its creation, MicroTEC has consistently pursued a diversity approach in its personnel policy. This has resulted in a more diverse workforce, which corresponds to the greater diversity evident in the market and in customer requirements. The deliberate promotion of employee diversity is shown by the company’s commitment to employing mixed-age and mixed-qualification teams, as well as its female and family-friendly working conditions and multicultural orientation.

The social dialogue at MicroTEC takes place through daily cooperation. There is no organised representation of interests.

The original initiative

At the time of MicroTEC’s creation in 1996, the company had a relatively homogenous age structure. The original five staff members all had the same cultural background and were between 25 and 40 years old. This homogeneous structure did not correspond to the demands of a more dynamic international market, for it was clear that the company’s clients would primarily come from abroad and from many different sectors. Thus, while the product catered for a diverse market, this market was not yet served optimally by the company’s own workforce.

For the company to develop and to orient itself towards the future, a mixed skills base was essential. As a result, a more balanced gender mix was introduced to the workforce and the company began to pursue a more diverse workforce structure. Additional capital from the Deutsche Industriebank – which has been the company’s shareholder holding 48% of shares since 2000 – enabled MicroTEC to recruit more people. This resulted in a broader knowledge base and a greater exchange of knowledge between the staff members.

For this reason, applicants with varied profiles were selected for the vacant posts. Besides younger applicants under 20 years of age, four older employees over 45 years of age were also hired. In addition to the age mix, the company also favours a mix of qualifications (engineers, technicians, master craftsmen, skilled workers, commercial employees). Since it first introduced the initiative, MicroTEC has worked with mixed teams that are better able to meet the different customer requirements and that support a joint work-integrated learning process.

Good practice today

Today, the corporate culture of MicroTEC is characterised by diversity, which is evident both in the multiplicity of customer requirements and their associated needs and in the composition of the workforce. The company philosophy in this respect is that different customer and market requirements can only be fulfilled with a diverse workforce. In this sense, diversity relates to a range of different aspects, such as gender, culture, qualifications and age.

Since 2000, the company has adopted a strategic approach to developing a more diverse workforce. In this phase of strong growth and with the equity participation of the Deutsche Industriebank, a number of people were hired. One of the company’s main objectives was to achieve an age and qualification mix. Therefore, both younger (under 20 years) and older (over 45 years) employees with different qualifications were recruited. Between 2000 to 2002, the company recruited a total of six older employees, two of whom have since left the company (one staff member retired and a female employee returned to an academic career).

In relation to its older employees, the company particularly values the expertise that only experienced engineers and skilled workers possess, e.g. experience in user-oriented development and the ability, gained from life experience, to effectively deal with difficulties and setbacks that are likely to crop up in the development of new projects.

The nature of the work at MicroTEC requires continuous learning due to differing and changing customer requirements. By mixing the teams through joint work as well as concrete project responsibilities, the management hopes to achieve a complementary use of the employees’ abilities and competencies and to promote knowledge transfer between staff members. The use of continuous, on-the-job reciprocal learning is realised through a so-called ‘benefit partnership’. This means that the concrete exchange of knowledge and experience must always take place in both directions if it is to succeed and if both the knowledge-giver and the knowledge-receiver are to profit from the exchange. Thus, just as the younger employees acquaint their older colleagues with the newest technologies, the younger employees also learn certain abilities from their older colleagues, such as scheduling and project organisation.

However, this does not mean that the working atmosphere at MicroTEC is free of conflicts. In order to achieve successful team cooperation, barriers and prejudices had to be overcome, not only between the generations, but also between employee groups. At first, the younger employees had reservations regarding the recruitment of older employees. It was feared that the older employees would lay claim to leadership, even though their younger colleagues had already worked for the company for a longer period. On the other hand, the older staff members who had previously worked in large enterprises had doubts about whether they were really needed and about whether they would be able to learn the new technologies quickly enough.

Regarding the learning of technical material, no differences can be detected between younger and older employees. However, differences can be observed regarding social learning, especially social competences. For those older staff members who had been tied into rigid, large company structures, which left little room for their own initiative, their integration into the MicroTEC’s innovative and achievement-oriented environment was by no means always easy. To assist the employees in this respect, MicroTEC has offered them more structure. For instance, an organisation chart as well as company guidelines were developed.

For the older employees, the company’s personnel policy has had two positive effects. First, MicroTEC’s hiring practice enables these employees to find a new job – even at an advanced age. Second, learning at work is supported by means of a learning-conducive structuring of working conditions, in the form of mixed teams; thus the employability of older staff members is maintained and even developed. For the company, a mixed workforce enables it to better meet the manifold customer and market requirements more efficiently. Lastly, due to this human resources strategy, MicroTEC was able to extend its international technological lead, gaining market shares and creating new training positions.

Further information

Contact: Andrea Reinhardt, General manager, Email: reinhardt@microtec-d.com

Company website: www.microtec-d.com