21(116) 2015
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Training our people all the time

Header sylwia goluchowska

Michael Dembinski talks to Sylwia Gołuchowska, head of HR at Raben Group, about the manpower challenges facing the logistics sector – and how to overcome them.

“Recruiting and retaining people is essential,” says Sylwia Gołuchowska. “It is becoming more and more difficult – even challenging – for the HR function. Many candidates are considering employment not only at home in Poland but Europe-wide. So at Raben, we are trying to broaden our offer – not just one workplace, but abroad as well. And this applies not only to management roles, but also for warehouse workers and drivers – we are offering Polish candidates the possibility to work for us in Germany and Holland. And for candidates from Ukraine, we’re offering the chance to work for us in Poland.”

Warehouse workers wages here are higher in Germany or Holland, so it becomes attractive to Poles to have the chance to work there, just as it is attractive for Ukrainians working in Poland. Raben has the advantage of operating right across Central and Eastern Europe, so it can recruit people to work internationally. What makes Raben’s employees want to move west – better wages? “Primarily yes, but it’s more than the money. It’s about sharing experience. Our Polish subsidiary is more mature than our German business, where we’ve made some acquisitions. So as well as earning more, our Polish employees working in Germany are contributing their know-how. In the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, sharing best practices creates additional benefits for warehouse workers.”

I ask why it’s so difficulty to find suitable staff in Germany. “There are general limitations on the labour market – fewer people available from year to year. This is the result of Germany’s solid economy and very low birth rate. This is creating a huge limitation for availability of manpower in Germany. This is not the situation in Poland yet – but in three, five years it will be similar,” says Ms Gołuchowska.

“Being able to offer the possibility of work in western Europe increases the attractiveness of Raben as an employer in Poland.

Technology is having a huge impact on logistics, and in the near-future, technologies such as RFID, the Internet of Things (IoT) – and potentially driverless vehicles – will revolutionise the sector. How does the ever-accelerating pace of technological change affect the way Raben recruits and trains its people?

“Voice-picking – where warehouse workers are following automated instructions through headphones rather than hand-held devices – is being introduced. To do the job effectively, we need the latest IT tools. It is not possible to recruit people ready to do the work – they need to be trained. The best solution is to have the training on hand to get people ready for it. We offer comprehensive internal induction training. This covers not only the more common topics – such as communication and processes. We used sophisticated technologies which must be used properly – so induction training is needed to do the job. It’s a necessity. We can’t expect people to be ready. Of course, where relevant experience has been gained somewhere else – as a forklift driver for example – this is valuable. Yet our processes and procedures are unique – hence the need for specialised induction training.”

I ask about apprenticeships – this is a hot topic across industry at the moment – both in Poland and in the UK, where the concept is being re-introduced after being forgotten for decades. “Young people are my hope for the future. There are two areas in which we are active. Firstly, Raben has developed a programme for students – apprenticeships during studies. This is for us a great opportunity to show young people who we are and how we work. Should a vacancy arise, we can offer internships or longer-term cooperation. Secondly, we have another programme – Partnerstwo Merytoryczny – cooperating with nine vocational schools. This is about the transfer of knowledge to 16, 17 and 18 year-olds. Work experience obligatory in these schools’ programmes; we offer this in our company. Not only for the pupils – also for the teachers, so that they can experience exactly how we work and what we can offer their pupils. This programme is similar to internships in that we offer knowledge of our methods. Not only in warehouse work – also in other areas such as transportation and customer service. Raben also has its Entrepreneureship Week – a group-wide initiative aimed at pupils of vocational schools. We open our doors, show who we are and how we work. There are presentations, discussions with truck drivers, warehouse workers. This has proved very positive. Over 450 pupils from vocational schools took part in this year’s Apprenticeship Week. The impressions are really great. In five years, eight years time, we expect very serious limitation on the labour market; such initiatives will see us better prepared for the future.

Germany is far advanced in terms of apprenticeships. How does it look there? “Germany’s demographics are worse than Poland’s. Recruitment in Germany is a big problem – for directors and managers – this is serious issue. The only answer is to develop programmes that support internal promotion and development. This leads to positive employer branding, which is incredibly important. The theoretical and practical school programmes, called AZUBI, are part of the vocational education in the national German system – are great and very supportive for both companies and young people. It is obligatory for companies to have AZUBI students on board. These offer a three-year work experience engagement for young people while they are studying at vocational school. Raben Germany offers 100 or more such positions. We are very supportive of this government initiative. Such ideas are occurring in Poland, but they are not developed at all. The German system offers very solid, well-grounded preparation for young people. It is a good idea, and easy to replicate. In the old times, before 1990, similar solutions were practiced in Poland. But after the closure of vocational schools, the old system collapsed, and a new one is not yet fully in place. If one is not implemented soon, Poland will have real difficulties in filling job vacancies in years to come.”

As an international company, present in many European countries, Raben can offer Polish managers the chance to lead teams in other countries. How are Polish managers seen abroad? “We tend to mix our people. There is a positive result from the interchange of culture, best practice and processes. It is certainly regular practice within the Raben Group to mix people at managerial level. It has nothing to do with nationality but with professionalism and needs, and is a pretty permanent feature at Raben. We carry out acquisitions – we have bought many companies, each one has a different culture.”

I ask what it’s like to integrate employees who worked in different companies, with these different cultures. “We live our values. We spread our culture across countries. These is a common company culture – it is based on the decisions you make, on common values and diversity. When we have many nationalities gathered in one organisation, there has to be a single culture based on values – diversity and unity of values. It is doable. An essential part of this is good communication and HR projects – this really helps, in situations where, for example, a Polish manager comes to Germany to run a project. The language of values is strongly present in our culture.”

It all boils down to training. “Training is a very important part of Raben’s culture. It exists in different shapes and forms and is constantly implemented. On-the-job induction is obligatory for each new employee. There is internal and external training offered, in areas such as professional presentation and customer care. We have an e-learning system created by ourselves, which is precisely adjusted to our needs. We mix people – one director from a certain region, a manager from another – we mix their common experiences, to share it, to consider the many variants in place and determine best practice. Any new initiative, and new project that is rolled out across the group, be it global employee engagement and satisfaction survey or competency appraisal is supported with training. The aim is to ensure continual improvement of outcome. The result is that we are training our people nearly all the time.”

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