A string of acquisitions over the years has seen Continental become one of the world’s leading suppliers of automotive parts today. This has brought about changes both to the company’s corporate culture and its workforce, which spans some 169,000 employees across 46 countries.
Developing a strong corporate culture and building the employer brand are some of the key items on the agenda for Elke Strathmann, who became Director of Labour Relations and member of the Continental Executive Board in January this year. “Most people associate us with tires, but 60% of our total revenue comes from the automotive business,” says Strathmann, who was in Singapore recently for the opening of a new research and development centre – one of the three largest in Asia. The new building currently houses about 650 employees and Continental Singapore plans to increase its headcount to 1,000 within the next few years.
Reaching out early
Continental has been exploring social media channels like Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as online job boards to reach out to potential employees. Set up in April 2011, The Continental Careers page on Facebook now has over 2,400 fans. It ranked third out of 463 similar pages evaluated by Swedish market research institute Potentialpark. The page focuses on current employees and features videos into their working lives. It also provides updates on the latest career-related events organised by Continental, says Strathmann.
Current employees are also roped in to spread the word. Those under the Continental Ambassadors Programme are sent to their old universities to reconnect with the student populations there. They take this opportunity to explain the diverse opportunities for training and development at Continental and attract qualified new staff to the company, Strathmann says. This message is conveyed through company presentations, research projects, lectures and workshops.
A bit of hands-on experience can go a long way in attracting the right talent into the automotive industry. With this in mind, Continental sponsors a Formula One racecar making competition where students from around the world receive tires and knowledge about motors to create their own performance vehicle. “It helps students become aware of automotive challenges and brings them closer to us,” Strathmann says.
Trend Antenna is another programme that exposes students to specific technical challenges, Strathmann says. Continental and student teams keep a close look on the trends shaping today’s and especially tomorrow’s world. The programme not only draws engineering students, but also those from such diverse fields as economics or psychology. It is offered in countries such as China and Germany. “It is very interesting to see how students in different cultural environments address these challenges,” she adds.
Opportunities for growth
As with most successful organisations, the buck does not stop with just hiring the right talent. Ensuring that employees can envision their growth and long-term future with the company is the next big challenge. Continental offers a variety of development programmes to help employees realise their full potential.
Some 30 promising executives from Continental’s global offices are admitted into its International Management Programme every year. They are divided into teams of six and work on real projects with high business impacts. “The project is normally outside of their area of knowledge so that they get to learn something completely different. It is intense and accelerated learning,” Strathmann says. Employees get the opportunity to work across different cultures and collaborate through physical as well as virtual meetings. After a year, the project culminates in a presentation in front of the entire executive board, where team members show their results, answer questions and have a discussion. “It’s great for employees and for the business as they come up with creative and new ideas. We get to know talent around the world that we wouldn’t easily see.”
Continental employees are also encouraged to widen their knowledge through movements across functions, divisions or countries. This enables them to understand different sides of the business, Strathmann says. However, this requires HR process to be well coordinated, she warns. When an employee moves to a different division, the person must still feel like they are with Continental instead of a new company where conditions are different, she explains.
Continental’s corporate culture has been constantly evolving as the company expands its global footprint. Developing a culture that resonates throughout the organisation is one of the key issues that Strathmann hopes to address. She feels this culture should be felt in the company’s day-to-day operations. For example, performance reviews should not just focus on targets but also examine how they were met as this will offer insights about conduct, Strathmann explains.
Working environments also differ across geographies and this is where international assignments and cross-cultural training can help, Strathmann says. “It makes people aware of their differences so that they don’t judge or think that they are always right,” she explains. A case in point: Germans are known to be more structured and correspondingly, extremely punctual when it comes to meetings. “So we need to tell them that other cultures might not have such a monochromic view of time,” Strathmann says.
Women at work
In the 9th Continental Student Survey, female respondents rated their careers opportunities, acquired knowledge, and prospects on the international jobs market less highly than their male counterparts. Strathmann feels that they could be more self-confident because they excel in their studies and are achieving better grates and more internship experience.
Continental plans to increase the share of women in management roles from its current 8% to 16% by the end of this decade, Strathmann says. She feels that HR polices need to be adapted to meet their differing needs. For example, the company could provide flexible work options, as well as crèche or kindergarten arrangements. When a female employee goes on maternity leave, HR should still keep in contact with her, she adds.
Continental will not miss out half of all talented professionals, and diverse groups are better at solving problems, she concludes.
At a glance Continental AG
• Total number of employees worldwide: 169,000
• Total number of employees in Singapore: 650 (approx.)
• Size of HR team in Singapore: 8
• Key HR Focus areas: Building a strong corporate culture, talent management, raising awareness of Continental’s employer brand
Revving up talent
Automotive parts supplier Continental developed the DRIVE (Development Resource Initiative) programme to address the growth and expansion of Research and Development activities in Singapore. Open to fresh graduates or post graduates with degrees in Electrical, Electronics, or Computer Engineering, as well as experienced engineers from other industries, the programme provides a training framework for new recruits to quickly become familiar with Continental’s way of working, with particular emphasis on engineering discipline and product quality.
DRIVE aims to accelerate learning and integration through group presentations and encourages close teamwork through shared assignments and discussions. Over a period of six weeks, participants attend classroom-oriented training with lectures and assignments. They also work on a practice project, alongside experienced engineers.
Who’s who in HR
Executive Board Member Human Resources, Continental
Senior Manager HR, Singapore
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