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Open Mine / Open Mine 03/2011 / Motivated people will find our door open 

Motivated people will find our door open

03/2011 - 24/8/2011

Radim Tabášek, OKD Chief Human Resources Officer

OKD is the biggest employer in Moravia-Silesia, providing jobs for more than 17,000 people. Successful human resource management involves having a team of true experts and clearly defined rules and processes. And above all: respect and regard for the people who possess the necessary skills to make the company what it is.

He comes running in one minute before the agreed time of the meeting. After the meeting is over, we leave the office together. He jumps into a car and drives off to sign an agreement with a secondary school to establish a mining education programme, which, thanks to OKD, will contribute to an overall renaissance of vocational mining curricula. Thus was the dynamic beginning and conclusion that framed the Open Mine interview with Radim Tabášek, OKD Chief Human Resources Officer.

How does one become the Chief HR Officer at OKD, the biggest company in Moravia-Silesia?

This question should not be aimed at me but, if I may speak with a little humour, at the people who appointed me and those who had some say in my appointment. In addition to my previous experience, what may have contributed to my selection was that I have never found it difficult to communicate with people and I have always strived to find a compromise acceptable to all engaged parties. Having the sensitivity to solve interpersonal relationships, where different groups of people try to push across different interests, is of exceptional importance in my position.

Speaking of your previous career and experience, where did you begin? And did it always point towards mining?

I am from Ostrava and my great grandfather, grandfather and father were all miners. That is why following a mining-related career was a natural development and why I never contemplated any other industry. I studied at the Faculty of Mining and Geology of the VŠB - Technical University of Ostrava, to become a mine surveyor. It was normal during the studies to take a part-time job at a pit every month. After graduation, I signed a contract with OKD and started my employment as a mine technician and surveyor at what was then a mine called “Ostrava”.

So your whole career is interlinked with OKD?

With a single exception: after mining was scaled down in the Ostrava part of the mining district, the winding up of the Ostrava Mine began in 1993. I took the opportunity that offered itself and got a job with the District Mining Authority in Ostrava as a mining inspector. I returned to OKD in 1996 and worked as a senior engineer at OKD, a.s., Business Unit IMGE, with a focus on surveying, geology and ecology until 2005.

So it was in 2005 that you became the Chief HR Officer?

No. I was appointed the Chief HR Officer in 2010. Since 2005, I have been the director responsible for the reclamation of areas affected by mining. I continue to work in that capacity, but that would be a topic for another interview.

How much time does the OKD Chief HR Officer spend with regular employees? And I don’t mean those in office jobs, but the miners.

Certainly less than I would consider ideal, but the time constraints are unforgiving. At the beginning, I tried to go down the pit with the miners every week, but recently it seems I’ve been unable to keep to this resolve. Yet being in touch with the people from the actual operations is of particular importance for the feedback between them and the management. I sometimes hear things that are less than complimentary. But the miners require mostly practical information necessary for their work, and a feeling that the company management takes a sufficient interest in the problems they face and adopts measures to help them.

OKD extracts coal from four mines. You therefore bear responsibility for many people across the region. How are the HR competences divided between headquarters and individual mines?

The overall human resources strategy is defined centrally. We mainly provide guidance for the individual mines. Mutual collaboration and trust are a must. It would be impossible to manage the mines from above, from a distant office, and take away their autonomy. They are responsible for results, so they must have the freedom to seek ways to achieve those results, not only in the area of human resources.

Who do the HR Deputies at individual mines report to?

To me, but this hierarchy is not important as we are not talking about any form of direct management. What is of essence here is mutual respect, open collaboration and the correct setting of processes within the company. The deputies answer to the mine directors in day-to-day business. And they understandably defend the interests of their place of employment.

The world is becoming more and more interconnected and the corporate sector should be viewed in this context. Does this apply to OKD human resources strategy as well?

We are part of the NWR group, which does not conceal its ambitions in terms of expanding into other countries in the region. Debiensko in Poland will soon witness the beginning of infrastructure construction, with the start of mining planned for 2017. We are aware of the fact that the Czech Republic is not an island and that we can look for inspiration abroad. The change in corporate culture has also been influenced by the fact that our CEO, Klaus Beck, is German and has extensive experience gained in North American mines.

Can you be more specific?

In my opinion, we can look for inspiration on two basic levels. Firstly, there is taking care of our employees in terms of occupational safety and equipping them with the right equipment. We have achieved that over the past three years and the half-billion CZK investment in this area is the best we could have done. Moreover, the deployment of additional machinery has helped us to further decrease the physical demands of work.

The second area where we could learn from abroad involves the difference in relationships between people and a different approach to communication within teams and between superiors and subordinates. This change takes place at a somewhat slower pace as you cannot change a way of thinking overnight.

How would this manifest itself?

We would like our people to be more confident, more enterprising, to bring forward their own proposals for improvements, and to feel well at work. That does not mean, however, any deviation from the rules that are essential for such a specific industry as mining.

The company had an employee satisfaction survey last year. How do you interpret the results?

Our employees clearly appreciated the investments in improving safety. They also value the position held by the company on the market, with most of our employees seeing good prospects for their long-term future, beyond the next 15 years, with the company. Only four percent of respondents said that OKD was not a good employer. I see it as my personal responsibility and challenge to improve communications with OKD management.

What is the situation on the labour market for miners? Are there enough qualified candidates available?

There is a lack of miners on the labour market. That is why we are very active in education. We have initiated the restoration of vocational mining education at the Secondary School of Technology and Services in Karviná. We have established a similar collaboration with a secondary school in Havířov-Šumbark, starting with the new school year. We also provide support to students of mining at the VŠB – Technical University in Ostrava. Nonetheless, all this is still not sufficient. While this support reaches dozens of people, we need hundreds of people simply to cover the natural replacement of current workers. The deficit of technological education and the lack of interest in such education is a society-wide problem faced by all industries. That is why we cooperate with labour offices in training people from various walks of life.

You mentioned the VŠB – Technical University in Ostrava. Can you describe the cooperation?

The university is a traditional seedbed of mining engineers. I must admit interest in mining studies has dropped compared to where it once stood, despite our efforts at attracting potential mining engineers at various job fairs, our proactive approach and our demonstration that hard coal mining has good prospects. On the other hand, it is apparent that universities are also inclined to follow more financially lucrative fields where subsidies and grants are available from public budgets or EU funds. We have a sizeable job ahead of us in this respect.

How many people do you plan to hire this year?

We have an analysis for the period up to 2015 in terms of the numbers of employees we will need, including their education levels and structure of occupation. Our targets are sensitive to production volumes, demand for coal and other factors. That is why we continuously fine-tune our outlooks. We would like to hire approximately 600 new employees this year.

OKD provides jobs for nearly 3,700 people with contracting companies. What is the advantage to this?

There are several aspects to this. An inevitable advantage lies in labour flexibility. Our biggest contractor suppliers of miners for our mines, Polcarbo and PolAlpex, are Polish companies and the majority of their employees are therefore Poles. In terms of performance and experience, they are usually at a generally higher level than our own employees. The reason is simple: while our legislation allows foreign miners to work here, our own miners have been required by law to retire. We are beginning to see our contractors suffering a lack of qualified workers as well.

Remuneration is always sensitive. OKD must find it even more complicated to find a fair and just system.

It is quite normal that most people feel financially undervalued. We strive to reward our employees fairly with a just reflection of the quality of their performance. In 2010, the average salary among our miners exceeded CZK 32,500, surpassing the regional average salary by about a half.

Salaries are defined by the collective agreement and are adjusted through annual amendments to it. They are therefore the outcome of negotiations between the company and trade unions. Both sides have their limits and a compromise must be found. So far, we have always succeeded in this. Beside the specific tariff, the total salary depends strongly on the flexible component, derived from performance and production results. The flexible component may amount to as much as 40 percent for the miner.

On top of all that, we have successfully deployed a programme called Continuous Improvement. Employees submit improvement proposals which have the potential to make work easier and safer, but which also secure them a financial reward depending on the scale of the improvement achieved.

It is inherent to human nature to strive to reach higher goals and become respected among peers. This is closely linked to career development. What is the situation regarding career growth in OKD?

I previously mentioned the lack of qualified employees. That already suggests an answer to your question. The door to career growth in our company is wide-open to skilled and motivated people. With respect to the age structure of our workforce, young people have considerable opportunities to reach the very top in their chosen profession within our company.

Human resource management is demanding. What is the basic principle it operates on?

We have implemented the SAP HR information system. The idea behind that move was quite simple: if you want to work with people, you need information about them. And this platform provides just that, plus streamlined administration tasks. We deployed the system over a period of two years and I consider the deployment a success. We have gained a clear overview of individual employees’ skills, education, state of health, dates of upcoming regular training, job position occupied and location, and plenty of other information. Competent people have access to this information online, which means a considerable simplification of their job. The system facilitates easy processing of requests by our employees. For example, people can use an information booth to request leave, without the need to go to an office.

Despite all the investment in technology, working underground remains physically demanding. How does OKD care for the health and fitness of its employees?

The collective agreement clearly defines the entitlements to reconditioning stays for employees, paid for by the company. And vitamins are distributed every winter. Meanwhile, thanks to our investments in technology, working environment improvements have been attained. For example, we have achieved a 60 percent decrease in dust levels in some locations. However, it is of course the case that employees are themselves primarily responsible for their own health, knowing that it is their most important and most valuable asset.

How do you organise internal training of your employees?

This can be divided into two basic constituent parts. On the one hand, there is the statutory and periodical training, organised for thousands of our people every year. We stress especially the area of occupational safety. Training sessions take place in our education centres established within the premises of the mines Darkov and Paskov. These facilities are equipped with highly sophisticated teaching equipment, such as interactive boards and computer technology. I dare say 90 percent of schools in the country might envy the level of equipment we possess in our training centres.

And the second part?

We support voluntary efforts at improving educational qualifications that are undertaken by our employees. Last year, 80 of our employees completed their secondary education with a school-leaving exam at the Secondary Technical School in Karviná, while another 40 or so studied in higher education at the VŠB – Technical University in Ostrava. Higher qualifications will open the way to further career development for these employees.

We are also signing an agreement on the establishment of a mining curriculum as a British GCSE-level study provided at a local secondary school, where we initiated the reintroduction of mining vocational curricula two years ago.

According to the indicators, OKD’s mines are safer than ever before. Nonetheless, where do you see the greatest threats and risks associated with working underground?

There have been massive investments and, besides those directed at increasing mining productivity, investments have gone into the area of occupational safety. Thanks to this I can say that the conditions in our mines are at a level that greatly reduce the risk of accidents occurring, barring non-standard situations. But despite all of this, we must maintain our respect and esteem for nature, and continue to monitor for possible risks.

Where injuries are concerned, they are in most cases the result of a failure caused by the human factor. The greatest risks occur when people start looking for any non-standard and untried approaches to solving a problem. They think they are going to make their job easier, but the consequences can be dire.

Marek Síbrt,