“Developing talent for the future”
Anton Alvila has been employed at HeidelbergCement’s aggregates company Jehander in Stockholm since 4 September 2016 as Trainee Plant Manager, having initially been Trainee Supervisor since September 2015. When he was accepted into a trainee programme, he had earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, specialising in Industrial Economics and Production Management. While taking part in the joint training programme for trainees in various areas, he is stationed at the Riksten quarry to the south of the capital.
Niclas Pettersson is part of the Stockholm production team, and is responsible for production at Jehander’s six quarries in the Stockholm region, including one mobile unit. Niclas worked as a fitter and repair operator at a company that Jehander engaged, and was offered a job as travelling fitter there 26 years ago. Since then, he has moved gradually from Repair Operator to Operator to Supervisor and, now, Site Manager. This has given him extensive knowledge of the business and the role of Production Manager for the six quarries. Jehander represents Sweden in the Aggregates Northern Europe business line.
Gentlemen, what do you consider important in your job as trainee/Plant Manager and as Production Manager?
Being calm, level-headed, and structured. You have to be a good planner and like keeping lots of balls in the air. There are about 15 of us on site in Riksten.
Openness and clarity are important, and letting people learn on the job. I have staff responsibility, with responsibility for Operations Managers at the quarries in the Stockholm region.
What is important in the mentor/trainee relationship?
The mentor must have a desire to build a person; it’s like a puzzle, putting together all the pieces that are important for the business. The mentor must be able to help the trainee develop the managerial talent that is needed for the future, and view the trainee as both a colleague and a person who is in the process of learning. So it’s a matter of balancing education with responsibility.
As a trainee, you need to feel secure and be able to contact your mentor if necessary. As Niclas has overall responsibility for the entire Stockholm region, he moves a lot between the quarries. But we speak by phone more or less every day.
That you’re given and willing to take the time required – for both mentor and trainee - without pushing too hard. I’ve not been a mentor before, but I have extensive knowledge of our business, and trust myself to know what’s needed at work.
What can the trainee/mentor relationship offer that would not otherwise be there?
As a trainee, you have far more time to grow in your role, to build up a network and meet people within the company. Put briefly, you are able to build relationships with people, to know where you should turn with various questions. Even if you can’t answer a question or solve a problem yourself right away, there’s always someone to ask within the company.
The trainee programme gives you an overall perspective, while at the same time you have a project and responsibilities. It gives you breadth.
Anton will receive a totally different insight into the company as a whole, and meet people in many more areas of the Group than he could if employed immediately in a specific function. He also has the ability to create contacts quickly, which I myself had to do over a much longer period of time.
Can you say something about changes since you started at Jehander?
Just in my short time with the company, we’ve made a few changes on the managerial front. We’ve gone back to more local management, where people with greater knowledge of the plants are more closely involved ahead of decisions. Other changes result out of new directives from the government relating to the extraction of natural gravel – and you’re aware that the market is changing.
Since I started, the Aggregates Northern Europe business line has become much bigger. A lot has happened over the last two or three years. There’s been a major transition in production, we now have totally new processes. There’s a desire to save natural gravel resources and move more towards crushed rock. Those are issues we’re dealing with.
Do you have any good advice for other trainees/mentors?
Don’t be afraid to try, to test, to make mistakes in order to learn. And most important of all: build up a network that’s as broad as possible. You only have that opportunity as a trainee, so seize it! Go and visit another plant, and see what they do there. Meet others in production to gain a broader understanding of the business.
It’s important to maintain an open dialogue with the trainee; to offer advice and be on hand to deal with things as they crop up. Anton is driven, so I don’t exactly need to chase him.
Sweden is well-known for employee involvement. What are some advantages of this? Drawbacks?
Some people want to have their say about things, others less so. In Sweden, employees like to be involved in issues that affect them personally. If I make a decision that affects day-to-day work, and employees are involved in making the decision, as a rule there’s a better atmosphere. The drawback is that decisions often take a little bit longer.
On the other hand, that extra time can pay for itself as the decisions are accepted. If only one person makes a decision, it can be rushed. And, without full insight into day-to-day activities, it can also be wrong. If a person who is to use a tool is involved in the decision as to when a new one has to be purchased, you know that the choice can be a better one. Extra functions may make it more expensive, but you often benefit from the work being done more quickly.
The advantage is that everyone’s on board. A joint decision is easier to live with, even if it doesn’t turn out so well. Otherwise, you’re all alone with the problem. There’s no absolute guarantee, but more people can more easily see benefits and drawbacks before decisions are made.
How independent are you in your work?
Personally, I’m very independent in my work. I know all the time what I have to do and what jobs we have to take care of. If you don’t know what to do, you ask your manager what he or she wants you to prioritise.
Anton can work extremely independently. And nowadays it’s so easy to keep in contact by phone and e-mail, so we have a constant dialogue. How independent a person can be at work is naturally a combination of personality and knowledge of production.
You also need to be able to learn on the job. And you must be allowed to make mistakes. Otherwise you won’t get anywhere.
What responsibilities do you have/are you given?
You take responsibility right away, but you can’t be blamed for something if it goes wrong. If you have a trainee job, the company wants you to assume responsibility; you’re a person the company wants to build on, who wants to make progress and who can make progress. Then it will pay off over time to assume responsibility. You’re allowed to make mistakes, I’ve had that emphasised to me many times.
Trainees take on a great deal of responsibility. You shouldn’t really have staff responsibility too soon, but the trainee still gets to try it out to some extent. He has to make sure that everything needed is in place, for example spare parts, and call in extra staff when more are needed.
(The interview was conducted in 2016.)