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Work with your former employees to keep the expertise inside your organisation

Bérénice Kimpe - International Cooperation

The French energy company EDF calls its pensioners back to help to restore electricity after a disaster, as an additional support for their former co-workers. The consulting firm PWC uses its alumni network to develop new businesses. Areva is developing a programme for its retired experts to keep the core expertise in the group.

More and more companies have an alumni network, with different objectives as explained above. We are now going to present a specific way of keeping the expertise within the company: the collaboration with retired experts.
Experconnect is a company dedicated to this kind of collaboration: Caroline Young, founder of Experconnect, and Thomas Brodbeck, Head of the German branch office, are going to present its main characteristics.

Caroline Young created Experconnect 11 years ago after she identified HR needs caused by the demographic evolution: once baby-boomers would reach retirement age, companies would strongly lack scientific and technical skills. The concept of Experconnect is to provide retired experts for specific and short-term missions. Experconnect operates in France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, United-Kingdom and Singapore.

ABG: Why are companies employing pensioners instead of recruiting young graduates?

Caroline Young (CY) / Thomas Brodbeck (TB): Recruiting young graduates is a fundamental investment. They need to be trained, to get acquainted with their environment and their missions. It takes some time before they are fully operational. When it comes to short-term missions, the large experience of retired experts combined with their specific skills enable them to work immediately on their assignments.

Another added value for companies is to dispose of rare or vanishing skills. Thalès for example is meeting some difficulties to ensure the maintenance of civil radars because they are based on analog techniques, much less appealing for young graduates.

However, employing retired experts is not an alternative for a permanent hiring. The missions for which they are needed are short-term. At Areva, retired experts can’t work more than 100 hours per year. At Experconnect, missions can’t exceed 50 days a year.

Retired experts are here to facilitate the transition, the knowledge transfer for the company to keep its core competencies and know-how.

ABG: For which missions are retired experts required?

CY / TB: Mostly for industries in which science and technology are very important: energy, railways, aeronautics… For activities with a long cycle, like R&D for example.

We were talking about transition and knowledge transfer: some retired experts are also playing the role of mentor for their younger co-workers. The scientific direction of Areva decided to include the programme of retired experts in a more collective approach by creating a collaborative workspace where experimented employees could work with the younger ones. A social network dedicated to technical questions is still in progress.

Being an expert also means having a long term vision. Our experts are able to support teams on the field to make them meet project deadlines. As an example, experts sent by Alstom helped deliver the tram to Rio on-time, before the start of the Olympics Games.

ABG: Areva employs its former experts for specific missions. Does it mean that retired experts can only work for their former employer? If not, may a conflict of interest appear? In some very innovative and competitive sectors, we can easily imagine that companies don’t want to employ a retired expert from a competitor and don’t want to have their own retired experts employed by a competitor.

CY / TB: Retired experts are not exclusively sent on assignments for their former employer. They can be assigned to their employer’s clients or suppliers. For them, it is an opportunity to upgrade their products and to better meet their clients’ needs and expectations, or to anticipate them.

They can’t work by any means for their former employer’s competitors: a specific non-compete clause is included in the work contract.

However, there is an exception, when they work for specific programmes that imply different players from a same sector. It is very often a sector in which the skills are extremely technical, specific and with a low transferability and scarce. The nuclear sector is a typical example. That’s why the companies from this sector came together to build a common pool of skills from which they can “pick up” experts.

ABG: We talked about the reasons why companies employ their retired experts. From the retired experts’ point of view, what is the point for them to come back to work for their former employer?

CY / TB: We did a survey on their motivations and what comes first is the knowledge transfer. They are proud and happy to guide younger co-workers: they feel useful and worthy, which are two of the most effective motivation leverages, at any age.

Having a professional activity or being a volunteer after retirement is quite common. In France, 20% of pensioners have a professional activity. And it doesn’t take into account the number of retired volunteers.

The way to retirement is not easy, especially for experts who have an extremely high level of commitment: you commit yourself 200% and suddenly, everything stops!

ABG: Does it mean that we should help future pensioners to prepare their exit?

CY / TB: Yes we should! To live a successful retirement, you need to be prepared. Retirement is the last step of your career planning and like any other step, you need to ask yourself the right questions: how should I proceed? Which impact will it have on my life? What do I want to do?...

ABG: How do you source your retired experts? How do you select them?

CY / TB: We have three main channels. Our clients send their retired experts to us: generally, they have set up a communication plan about this opportunity. We are also headhunting through our network of 4,500 experts. And we count on the word of mouth.

Our experts are organised by industrial sector. Each division is led by a manager who validates the recruitment after her/his different exchanges with the experts from our database. The latter help in the recruitment by validating the technical skills of a candidate.

But the first step is the creation of a profile. In this profile, candidates are requested to present their skills, their experience, their education. The last key element is expectations. It is of the higher importance for us to know their wishes, their desires regarding the type of their future assignments and their availability. Our approach is based on commitment, on professional pleasure: it is not mandatory for our experts to accept our proposals. Our mission is to match their profile and their expectations with the needs of our clients: their passion for what they do and their feeling that they can have an impact are the two main quality proofs.

Association Bernard Gregory (ABG) has 36 years of experience in delivering career coaching and training courses for PhDs. It also helps innovative companies which want to give a touch of diversity in their teams by recruiting PhDs.
More information on ABG: www.intelliagence.fr