A changing world of work
The spread of the coronavirus turned the working world upside down. Lockdown measures and their economic impact also affected employees of the Uelzena Group in a variety of ways. Positive effects included a stronger team spirit and the expansion of digital possibilities, while negative effects were caused by the many necessary process adjustments. One site was also affected by short-time work, which had significant implications for sections of the workforce. Ensuring the health and safety of the employees whilst also sustaining the business processes as a milk-processing company was a major challenge that Uelzena was able to handle successfully.
As a company in the food industry, topics relating to health protection and hygiene guidelines have always played a significant role. Consequently, the company already had a solid basis at the start of the pandemic. These matters were already implemented responsibly at all levels, by both internal and contracted staff, which meant that the extended hygiene concepts could be quickly integrated into existing structures. At the same time, the crisis highlighted weak points and revealed limitations. Space constraints in particular, became a challenge. To minimise the risk of infection, distancing guidelines and contact rules were implemented within the Uelzena Group, and compulsory mask wearing was put into effect quickly and efficiently. In addition, key personnel were not all present at the same time and the company introduced even more flexible working hours. Protection strategies were continually adapted in regular meetings. Uelzena’s many experienced and long-standing employees were a key asset and their expert knowledge supported the company greatly during this time.
„Like many other colleagues, working from home presented an interesting challenge. Despite my initial scepticism, it worked surprisingly well. Having said that, I’ve missed the personal contact with my colleagues during this time – conversations we would have in passing. I very much welcome a gradual return to ‘normality’.“
Robert Dömland, Warehouse Manager, Uelzena
Occupational health and safety are absolute priorities for Uelzena. A safe working environment that helps prevent accidents and work-related illnesses is an essential requirement for the performance of dedicated employees, critical for the productivity and quality. At Uelzena, it goes without saying that the company improves and promotes occupational health and safety by complying with existing laws and setting group-wide objectives. This includes regular training and risk assessments, preventative measures such as specially adapted hearing protection in production, and investment in safe technology. In the reporting year, GRI performance indicators were assigned to the topic of occupational health and safety for the first time.
On the reporting date, remote working was required to be in place for numerous divisions so as to limit contact in the workplace. Particular demands were placed on the IT division and human resources, who reacted swiftly to the new situation by providing technical devices and software solutions, as well as training opportunities and adapted time recording. In many respects, the need for flexible working can be seen as a catalyst for accelerating digital processes within the group. Employees working from home handled this new situation just as professionally as those who continued working on site with increased hygiene measures in production, labs, warehouses, and workshops. Special attention was paid to supporting employees to combine work and childcare or other family commitments flexibly and without any unnecessary bureaucracy. As a system-relevant company, Uelzena jointly succeeded in safeguarding business processes and remaining available as a reliable partner for its customers. Continuity of milk collection and processing played a particular role, as Uelzena has a major responsibility as a milk-processing company, not only to its workforce and customers, but also to the milk producers.
The Instant Beverages business division was especially hard hit by national and international lockdown measures. Regrettably, this led to short-time working at the Ratzeburg site for the first time within the Uelzena Group. This measure made it possible to achieve the objective of securing jobs and absorbing sales losses.
Fit for the future
The need for qualified employees continued even in the Covid-19 year, 2020. To ensure Uelzena is well equipped for future investment projects and challenges, the total number of employees increased to 781. Digital processes were also increasingly deployed for recruitment processes and all sites were supported digitally in the recruitment process by human resources in Uelzen. Career guidance opportunities such as vocational training fairs took place online and training ambassadors maintained a strong digital presence at schools. A more targeted approach to reach potential trainees for Uelzena involved using social media and expanding the online presence to include an Instagram account.
Finding new qualified employees and retaining them in the long term – that's a challenging task for employers. A skills shortage, regional location disadvantages and uncertainty on the employment market due to Covid-19 have not made this task any easier for us. A strong and authentic employer brand is essential to ensure Uelzena Group is well equipped for the challenges of the future. This brand represents a blend of the own corporate culture, values and how we interact with each other. The development of such a brand for the Uelzena Group began in 2020. Employees from all company divisions and sites are involved: As interview partners and workshop participants, they will play an active part in developing an employer brand.
.Outlook for 2021
The coronavirus pandemic is still impacting the professional and private lives in 2021. Measures to control the pandemic are continually updated at Uelzena Group sites. Voluntary rapid tests and self-testing kits are also being provided, as are medical masks. At the Uelzen site, employees can be tested regularly on site by a trained external testing team using rapid antigen tests. Irrespective of the pandemic, and with a view to the future, the Group will press ahead with strategic projects such as the development of an employer brand. The aim is to promptly implement the findings gained into business practice.
The workforce at the Uelzena Group has been constantly growing for many years – the company has recorded an increase in employee numbers of nine percent within in the past four years. In order to continue to grow in the future, the company needs specialist workers. However, in the future, there will be fewer skilled workers throughout Germany, as the number of people available on the labour market has been declining for the last 15 years. Up until 2013, it has decreased by approximately 2 million people. According to calculations by the Federal Institute for Population Research, a further 2 million will be lost by 2030. This demographic change is a challenge for German industries because it intensifies the competition for skilled workers on the labour market. In addition, there are fewer people willing to do shift work; flexible working time models are instead in demand. As the Uelzena Group is a company where employees are constantly needed to work in shifts, this is an aspect that makes the search for specialists even more difficult.
Another major challenge is the enormous technological upheaval that is taking place at ever-shorter intervals because of digitalisation and automation. Knowledge is becoming obsolete much faster with new skills being constantly needed resulting in lifelong learning becoming indispensable. The Uelzena Group is ready to face these challenges.
The action field, ‘employees’ comprises the following topics: employment, occupational safety and health, further education and training as well as the relationship between employers and employees. The way that the Uelzena Group manages these areas, the objectives the Group has and how these will be implemented is of interest predominantly for employees but also for members of Uelzena eG and local politics. See also: Stakeholder results.
Our sustainable human resources strategy – overview on targets and measures
Targets aimed at employees
- The appeal of the Uelzena Group as an employer – for specialised professionals and managers as well as for young people – should be further improved. This will enable our growing company to meet its need for new employees.
- Qualified employees – new recruits as well as senior employees – should be employed at the Uelzena Group for as long as possible. Therefore, it is important that employees are happy, stay healthy and are able to combine their family life with their job.
- The Uelzena Group supports the development and advancement of its employees to further their skills.
Qualified employees of the Uelzena Group can be sure that the company offers them a long-term and secure perspective within the company - including a salary that is attractive compared to the compensation paid within the industry and the region.
The Uelzena Group goes to great lengths to raise the awareness of itself as a company to potential professional employees. The Group is increasingly present at job fairs, offers internships and has a modern website. Applications can be made easily via the online application tool. In addition, the company supports students from various universities in the preparation of their theses and thus gains new highly qualified employees.
Education and training
- Employees and supervisors jointly discuss the possible requirements for education and training. These dialogues take place on a regular basis.
- Set-up of modern knowledge management in the company. This includes online webinars for education and training.
- The long-term pilot project “Production OC 2025” is aimed at improving the work processes in the production departments at the Uelzen and Bismarck sites. Plans have also been made for other sites. The central idea behind this is that the employees shall initiate optimisation measures independently.
- The Uelzena Group trains young people in a structured manner to become skilled workers. Each apprenticeship is based on a reliable training plan defined in writing. Moreover, the trainers provide the trainees with intensive support and assistance – whether in their daily work or in preparation for their examinations.
- For its training programmes, Uelzena received the "TOP" seal of quality from the IHK Lüneburg-Wolfsburg for excellent training for the period 2018 - 2021.
Since 2016 there has been a central comprehensive health project in place for the employees of Uelzena. It includes various components, such as discounted membership cards for various sports and health facilities as well as comprehensive health and ergonomics coaching.
Occupational health and safety
Uelzena considers it a top priority to offer a safe working environment that contributes to avoiding accidents and work-related illnesses. It goes without saying that we improve and promote occupational health and safety by complying with existing laws and setting group-wide objectives. These measures include regular risk assessments, training and preventative measures such as specially adapted hearing protection in production, and continually optimising our fire prevention and explosion protection strategies. Since 2014, Uelzena eG has taken part in the reward scheme offered by the BGN – the employer’s liability insurance association for the food and hospitality industry – and since then it has won a cash prize every year for occupational health and safety measures that go far beyond legal requirements.
Reconciliation of family and work life
The Uelzena Group supports its employees so that they do not have to decide between work and family. For instance, employees with children or family members who require care are offered individual working solutions such as part-time work, as far as is feasible for our company. The FaMi seal, which was awarded again to the Uelzen site in 2019, attests to these good framework conditions.