Spain: Indra

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Javier Berriatúa Calderón and Carolina Arribas García, Indra

Javier Berriatúa Calderón and Carolina Arribas García from Indra talk to Jim Playfoot about finding talent, a progressive approach to internships and keeping good people on staff

Indra is one of the biggest companies in Spain, listed on the IBEX 35 and with an international portfolio of business interests that include information technology, simulation systems and defence. They employ over 24,000 staff worldwide (mostly in Spain) and received revenues of over 2.3 Billion Euros in 2008. I meet Javier and Carolina, two young representatives from the human resources team that is responsible for keeping the company talent pool healthy. They are the type of company who face global competition for the contracts they win. So they are, you might say, at the sharp end of the debate about how effectively education systems are preparing people for employment. The success Indra enjoys is in no small part down to the quality of staff they find and retain. Their annual report in 2008 stated that "capturing, developing and retaining talent is critical for Indra's sustainability and is therefore a strategic priority". These are, one might argue, common sentiments amongst global corporations. Exploring exactly how the company works towards this strategic priority might tell us more about the role education is playing in relation to the workforce.


Finding the right people

We begin by exploring the ways in which, as a company, Indra finds new recruits. Aside from the now traditional mechanisms of using the internet to search for candidates and promote opportunities, there are two things that emerge from our discussions. First, competition for good people is fierce and second, as a company, they take that competition very seriously. Javier explains:

"We go out into universities and schools - we have relationships with them. They have to know who we are, what we do. Then they become motivated to work here"

Bearing in mind the high levels of unemployment in Spain at the moment - consistently around 20% during 2009 and significantly higher amongst those leaving education - it's revealing that a company like Indra needs to promote itself to potential candidates. In terms of where they look for new recruits, it depends on the type of people they are looking for. Javier continues:

"Around 90% of our employees are technical people. The other 10% are administration or management. When you are looking for technical people, you are looking for some specific things."

Carolina goes on to talk about practical capabilities - hard skills if you like - but also the ability to work in a team which, she suggests, is a skill many people get through university. Specifically, there are, she says, four values that they look for in everyone they employ: rigour, sensibility, determination and originality. They also look particularly for people who are "motivated, creative and action-oriented". In their corporate literature, the company defines the type of employee they are looking for as "committed, open to change and able to learn".


Where formal education stops and work-based learning starts

Although both Javier and Carolina are generally positive about the quality of recruits they see coming out of universities and vocational colleges, they are also quite open about the limitations of formal education, particularly within the context of a technology-led company like Indra. Javier explains:

"It's quite hard to find a fresh graduate who already knows the latest technology [that we will be using]. They have a basis but we have to teach them the specific technology."

We talk about how the pace of change in technology development is such that it is increasingly difficult for educational institutions to teach technologies that can be quickly applied within a business context. However, Indra seem happy to accept the role that they will need to play when a new recruit joins in terms of updating specific technical skill sets. As long as those joining the company have the right attitude and are able to learn, they are given the support they need to flourish.

There is one way in which formal education could improve from Javier's perspective:

"University graduates would be better prepared if they had more practice, if they could put into practice what they learn."

However, as he goes on to point out, changes in further education are coming as the Bologna Process begins to be implemented in Spain. Expectation is that this will see a notable increase in the practical component of higher education across Europe.


Internships as a mechanism for recruitment

We return to the subject of recruitment and, as we talk further, it becomes clear that beyond what one might consider the relatively standard approach taken at Indra there lies a more sophisticated model involving a highly developed internship programme. Through carefully nurtured relationships with universities across Spain, Indra offers around 300 internships a year. These interns are carefully selected and vetted, given significant support for what is typically a six month period and, crucially, are highly likely to be offered a job at the end of the process. Javier explains:

"The basis of our recruitment is internships. We do not see them as employees [when they first join]: they are here to learn."

Of the interns that are taken on, Carolina estimates that around 70% will be offered a full time position in the company at the end of the process, usually as a 'junior' who will enter a career development programme that will help them become a full employee. This scheme, unlike many similar schemes in other countries of the world, gets no direct support from the regional or national government (or, at least, no support is sought) and is designed and run entirely by Indra. It's success is both testament to the commitment the company has to it and their ability to identify the right people to enter the scheme.


Keeping people on board

The investment in people that their internship scheme demonstrates runs company wide. In fact, as we talk, it becomes clear that the company is, in many ways, quite traditional in its approach to staff. Although evidence may suggest a paradigm shift in patterns of work - one study recently concluded that school leavers today will have an average of five career changes by the time they are 35 (that's career change not just job change) - the one-company career that, in some circles, is touted as a dying notion is still alive and well in this part of Europe. Carolina expands:

"We can provide a career, not just a job. Keeping our staff [long term] is vital: they can learn with us, focus on their interests, do cool stuff."

A central part of this offer is career planning. This applies to everyone who walks through the door at Indra, including the interns. Every member of staff is given structured career guidance through the company's Career Management System. This provides career pathway guidance to every employee as well as the facility to fast-tracking those who show particular potential in specific areas. This approach is only possible within the context of a large corporation and is clearly something that Indra believes in.

Further to career guidance and promotion planning, the company is committed to what it calls 'diversity management policies' which enable employees to design their own pay packages, manage work-life balance and promote equality of opportunity across the organisation all of which are important factors when considering mechanisms for staff retention.

The story of Indra, it seems, is one of the 20th century corporation, redesigned for a 21st century world. While prevailing trends may point to a future where big corporations become economic dinosaurs, Indra is making a virtue of its size, offering the kind of personal development and career support that many 'new workers' can only dream of. They also have a refreshingly clear view about what they value in their employees and what their employees want from them. And they seem to be developing genuine, and valuable, partnerships with educators, not only to safeguard their own competitiveness but also to provide some input into developing the next generation workforce.