It’s a tough race for engineering talent

FLSmidth’s strategies for recruiting and retaining skilled employees include collaborating with a growing list of university engineering departments and supporting training programmes in local communities.

The scramble to attract newly graduated engineers is nothing new. For the past 50 years, business sectors as diverse as aerospace and construction, high-tech and heavy manufacturing, have competed for a talent pool that is typically described – depending on the industry – as barely adequate or alarmingly small. As FLSmidth Group CEO Jørgen Huno Rasmussen observes, it’s a race that can seem particularly daunting for a company focused on serving the cement and minerals industries.

Cooperating with universities is an important way for us to expose students to our industry and to the strengths that make FLSmidth a leading brand, especially our knowledge and technology leadership
— Jakob Lyngsø Andersen Vice President Global HR FLSmidth

“Our core business is based on engineering knowledge, so we are always looking for talented people,” he says, “and we make it known that we’re committed to developing people after we hire them. But it’s a tough, competitive market and many recently graduated engineers see the cement and minerals industries as old-fashioned and conservative. It’s not perceived as the most glamorous place to work, even though we have a strong and growing business environment. This is a challenge we’ll have to face well into the future – and one that FLSmidth, as the lead player in our industry, has a particular responsibility to cope with.”

A battle of perception
As this challenge is at least in part a battle of perception – a matter of introducing tomorrow’s engineers to the possibilities offered by a career associated with cement and minerals – FLSmidth has established a programme of working with the engineering and technical education departments of universities in countries ranging from the US to Russia, Egypt and India.

The programme, which has its roots in the company’s long-standing partnership with the Department of Chemical Engineering of the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), aims to help FLSmidth attract and retain a qualified workforce through financial support, joint research projects, student exchange programmes, supplying educational material and technical expertise and actively recruiting students.

“This is an important way for us to expose students to our industry and to the strengths that make FLSmidth a leading brand, especially our knowledge and technology leadership,” says Jakob Lyngsø Andersen, vice president global HR.

“If they see FLSmidth as a forward-looking company with a long history of technical innovation and leadership – not just in cement and minerals processing, but also in environmental initiatives and green technology – then we stand a much better chance of competing for their talents.”

Deep roots in Denmark
It stands to reason that co-operation with universities is more established in Denmark, where FLSmidth is headquartered, and that connections with universities within Denmark have served as a model for what can be accomplished by establishing similar ties in other countries. The showcase for this model is the relationship with DTU, which goes back many years and is funded partially by FLSmidth. The most recent development is a five-year project focused largely on new environmentally friendly cement production technologies in areas such as increasing energy efficiency and utilizing alternative fuels. This research currently provides the basis for eight ongoing PhD projects. FLSmidth has similar relationships in Denmark with Aalborg University, Aarhus University – particularly with the university’s Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre – and IT University.

Taken together the university programmes in Denmark directly support the research of 15 PhD students as well as a much larger number of undergraduate students. “There is no doubt that these university programmes increase interest in the cement industry in general and specifically in FLSmidth,” says Ole Mogensen, general manager for research at FLSmidth’s Dania R&D Centre. “This early exposure gives future engineers a taste for our industry. In exchange for our financial support and expertise, we receive high-level research focus on some of our core challenges. We also benefit from recruiting a steady stream of very talented new graduates who are naturally inclined to join FLSmidth after seeing what we can do.”

New initiative in Russia
Although the majority of cement plants in Russia were privatised after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, cement production technology still lags behind. About 85 percent of plants continue to use wet production technology and lack the technology and expertise to switch to dry production, which has benefits including less fuel usage, reduced energy consumption and lower CO2 emissions. Just one year ago, FLSmidth established programmes with two universities to help educate students – and assist the cement industry – in making the transition from wet to dry technology. The main universities involved are Mendeleev University of Chemical Engineering (in Moscow) and St. Petersburg State Technological Institute.

FLSmidth also supplies educational materials to other Russian universities, such as Belgo-rod State University. Mendeleev University of Chemical Engineering and St. Petersburg State Technological Institute have been given licences to use FLSmidth® Automation simulation software to help teach students how to operate a modern cement plant. The agreement with Mendeleev University includes support for research and for training specialists in cement production, including specialised job training and post-graduate education of engineering and technical specialists.

Co-operation with Russian universities began just a year ago, but Claus Christian Torbøl, FLSmidth’s general manager in Russia, believes that positive results are already evident. “We currently have about 80 students in supported programmes,” he says, “and we’re considering applications from 100 more. In addition to support for classroom and hands-on training for students, we also support train-the-trainer programmes which are an efficient way to upgrade the skills of cement plant employees. FLSmidth has already hired three engineers from the universities we support. This is a talent pool that will be a valuable source of future recruits for us. After only a year, it’s evident that these programmes have raised awareness of FLSmidth. They’re also helping to advance the Russian cement industry by generating interest in the use of dry technology.”

Supporting US minerals research
For the past seven years, FLSmidth has worked closely with Virginia Tech’s department of mining and minerals engineering, mechanical engineering and engineering science and mechanics departments. In the past two years the company has also developed a relationship with the metallurgical and mining departments at the University of Utah, which is located close to FLSmidth’s new global minerals tech-nology centre. Through these university connections FLSmidth is able to engage in product research and testing and train students for future positions within the company and the industry. These universities are the top contributors to advancing minerals processing technology through their PhD programs and are researching new separations technologies leading to improved energy efficiency and reduced impact of minerals processing on the environment.

Some FLSmidth funding has supported student research projects focused on flotation technology, which contributed to the successful development of FLSmidth’s energy efficient SuperCells™ flotation cells, the world’s largest flotation cells. “Many of the students involved in our programme have worked on the SuperCell project,” says Dariusz Lelinski, FLSmidth’s flotation product development manager. “At a recent engineering conference in Denver, five papers mentioned FLSmidth’s name in association with basic student research. This kind of exposure is very good for spreading awareness of FLSmidth’s capabilities and our position as an industry leader. We also sponsor one-year internships – six last year and eight this year – that give students real-world experience and can lead to full-time jobs for the highly trained specialists we need.”

Dedicated institute in Egypt
In September 2010, a partnership between FLSmidth and Helwan University was made official, resulting in the establishment of the FLSmidth® Helwan Cement Institute in Cairo, Egypt. “There are multiple reasons for the partnership,” says Cristina Holmark, department manager at FLSmidth’s training institute. “The strong Egyptian cement industry which is forecasting growth in the next three to five years and FLSmidth’s historically strong position in the market are essential factors,” she says.

“Most important is that in Egypt our indu-stry is experiencing a shortage of qualified personnel, which is made worse by strong recruiting competition from the oil and gas industry.” The idea behind the FLSmidth Helwan Cement Institute is to help alleviate this problem by creating a graduate-level cement institute that can bridge the educational and qualification gap for engineers graduating from the university and prepare them for a potential career in the cement industry. FLSmidth has contributed to setting up the physical facility and to on-going sponsorship of the programme.
“Before establishing FLSmidth Helwan Cement Institute, FLSmidth solved the educational and qualification gap with extensive internal training and education,” says Cristina Holmark. “By investing in a partnership with a local university, our ambition is to make a long-term change in the local educational system to serve both the cement industry and the local community. Our belief is that the partnership will strengthen the future pool of potentially qualified candidates and increase local hiring. So far, we have a total of 40 students, and while we are in the early stages of the programme we have an excellent team at the institute with great support.”

Training in local communities
The Helwan Cement Institute demonstrates how FLSmidth’s strategy of building ties with university engineering departments is supplemented by fostering local training capabilities. “An essential focus of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commit-ment is establishing strong relationships with the communities we operate in,” says FLSmidth Group CEO Jørgen Huno Rasmussen. “We strive to make a positive contribution to local communities through co-operation with universities and tech-nical schools to raise local skill levels. New jobs and educational opportunities con-tribute to the general development of the local society, so our CSR activities benefit communities and help provide us and our clients with the skilled employees that are needed.” This contribution takes on particular significance in view of the growing importance of FLSmidth’s Operations and Maintenance (O&M) business, in which FLSmidth takes over the operation of a customer’s plant, including recruitment, training and development of local em-ployees. Establishing effective training programmes, usually in co-operation with local institutions, is therefore an essential part of fulfilling O&M contracts. Where skill levels are already at international standards, FLSmidth offers jobs at O&M sites, which are operated mainly by local staff.

The FLSmidth Helwan Cement Institute provides local training to help ensure availability of qualified employees for FLSmidth’s multiple O&M contracts in Egypt. Another example of local training at work is provided by Fabrica de Cimento Do Kwanza-Sul S.A. (FCKS), a new greenfield plant in Sumbe, Angola. An O&M contract with the plant provides that FLSmidth will recruit, train and employ all the necessary plant operators and maintenance personnel. To develop worker skills, FLSmidth is setting up a training centre in collaboration with the Angolan educational authorities. The centre will provide courses in mechanical, electrical, process and safety skills. The aim of the centre is to qualify local workers not only for the cement plant at Sumbe but also for the industrial environment of modern process plants in general. “In both Egypt and Angola, the solution of investing not only money, but also time, resources and knowhow, is a more demanding approach for FLSmidth than merely donating money to the universities,” says Jørgen Huno Rasmussen. “However, it is also a more sustainable solution, through which we attempt to make a long-term difference, not only for our own employees but also for the economic development of our host communities and countries.”

IIT education for FLSmidth employees in India
The Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai (IITM) is one of the country’s most distinguished engineering schools. Apart from many other education offerings, IITM offers research-based programmes (MS and PhD) for aspirants who wish to pursue higher technical education.

FLSmidth-India partners with IITM for different engineering education initiatives and is recognised by IITM as a “research based organisation”. In order to facilitate admission to IITM courses, FLSmidth employees undergo a custom-designed research methodology program delivered by the Department of Management Studies at IITM. Classes are conducted for nine weekends. The objective of this course is to equip students to design a research project.
The course concludes with a presentation by the students on their proposed research project. The presentation is evaluated by selected managers of FLSmidth and faculty from IITM. Selected employees are then asked to formally apply to the course. An employee who passes the entrance test and interview is then permitted to enroll into a MS (Master of Science) / PhD course as a full-time scholar. The course duration for the MS is two years; three years for the PhD. Scholars must carry out research at the IITM campus for six months. After completing this requirement, they can return to work – FLSmidth is recognised as a research centre – and continue with the research programme, supported by professors from IITM.
At present, five employees from FLSmidth Chennai are engaged in a research programme at IITM.

CONTACT: Ann-Katrine Havris Lundgaard