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Mercedes Aja (IK4-Tekniker): “Our staff turnover rate is low, which demonstrates that the talent retention methods which we are using are having the desired effect”

  • “People will not choose to work all their lives in the same place, they will change if what we are offering them does not suit them or ceases to interest them.”
  • “Our capacity to listen and be able to identify what it is that moves people will be key in terms of anticipating their needs in an agile manner.”

IK4-Tekniker is a technology centre with over 35 years of experience in applied research and with a clear mission: to improve the positioning and competitiveness of its clients by means of technology transfer.

Bizkaia Talent was keen to find out about the organization’s talent attraction and retention policies, as well as the good practices used by this private non-profit foundation. For this reason, we visited the company’s installations in Eibar and spoke to Mercedes Aja, Personnel and Organization Manager of IK4-TEKNIKER.

What kind of projects is IK4-TEKNIKER currently involved in?
IK4-TEKNIKER is currently working on numerous different projects in different areas. Outstanding amongst these are those related to Industry 4.0 (intelligent machines, industrial robotics, predictive maintenance etc); projects related to multifunctional surfaces where specific function coatings are developed and scaled (antibacteria, hydrophobic, anti-dirt etc) all connected with advanced manufacture, both from the perspective of manufacturing processes (additive manufacturing, for example) and from that of manufacturing methods. With respect to the sectors receiving all of this innovation, while our technologies are very horizontal, the principal sectors are those of machine-tools, aeronautics, the car industry, renewable energy and the health sector, amongst others.

What difficulties are you encountering in recruiting the talent required by your organization?
We carry out a large proportion of our recruiting by means of first-degree internships (TFGs) and end-of-Master projects (TFMs). IK4-TEKNIKER collaborates closely with the universities to ensure that every year around 30 students carry out their TFGs and TFMs with us, and this has proved to be a highly efficient recruiting process. Where IK4-TEKNIKER does run into problems is in achieving that more women join the “STEM” workforce (specialists in mechanics, electronics, automation etc), and profiles with a research vocation together with tried and tested industrial experience have proven not to be a simple or common combination. However, rather than on recruitment alone, at IK4-TEKNIKER we focus our energy on talent retention, and on talent transfer in particular.

What good practices are you carrying out to face this challenge in terms of talent attraction and fidelity?
We have a low rate of staff turnover, which demonstrates that the talent retention methods which we are using are having the desired effect. Amongst the practices we are using we can emphasise the following: positioning management and brand appeal, the promotion of an enriching working environment (project variety, technological level, team work), the building up of highly attractive socio-occupational conditions which incorporate various highly flexible work/life balance measures, a professional development system directed at skills improvement and growth (GPS-Garapen Profesionalaren Sistema), and the provision of channels for the continued development of professional careers, either at IK4-TEKNIKER itself or at an industrial company in our industrial environment.

Why should professionals wish to join IK4-TEKNIKER?
In order to collaborate in the research to improve the competitiveness of companies. Any professional with a passion for knowledge and transferring it to companies by means of applied research will find in IK4-TEKNIKER the finest centre in the Basque Country Science and Technology Network (according to the latest excellence indicator ranking of the Basque Government). In order to work in a big team of over 300 people whose concern is to provide valuable technologies and solutions to companies, to carry out their doctoral theses, to use equipment of a high technological level, to learn in a working atmosphere which encourages collaboration and communication, and even, having experienced all of this, to put the knowledge learned to the service of another company (talent transfer).

What can you offer to the youngest talent?
IK4-TEKNIKER provides a space which fosters the development of team-work skills, project management, and the building-up of relationships with companies in the sector both at the national and international levels. If we add to this the depth of knowledge that research activity provides together with participation in unusual projects (which range from controlling the movement of a telescope, providing new properties to surfaces, or incorporating technology into specific processes to reduce costs, to name but a few), all of this offers young people a context of personal and professional enrichment of undeniable value.

How do you envision IK4-TEKNIKER in the future from the perspective of talent?
I think that our know-how in terms of talent retention and protection strategies is going to become a big player (indeed it already is). People will not choose to work all their lives in the same place, they will change if what we are offering them does not suit them or ceases to interest them. Selling attractive employment proposals at IK4-TEKNIKER will be easier than keeping people’s passion and motivation to carry on working here high. Our capacity to listen and be able to identify what it is that moves people will be key in terms of anticipating their needs in an agile manner, as will the building up of mutual trust and providing working contexts which combine the on-line and the off-line in a natural way.

*Note: This interview took place at IK4-TEKNIKER after it had won the award for the professional category in the competition “What is Bizkaia Talent for you?”

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