where your life depends on your workmates

Many companies say that knowledge and teamwork are their top priorities. But for a miner working hundreds of meters underground, knowledge and teamwork are life-saving essentials. “Cooperation, experience and trust between the miners below and engineers above ground play a crucial role in sustaining and improving the safety of our employees. Our key focus is ensuring that innovative work organization and professional management systems are implemented and enforced in all mines and metallurgical plants. In the field of safety, there is no compromise,” says Andrzej Zbróg, Executive Director, Strategic Management at global mining giant, KGHM.

The need to look out for each other helps to create a special bond among KGHM‘s workforce, an attribute which is very much at the heart of the company‘s appeal to talent – Polish participants in the Randstad Employer Brand Research rate KGHM as the most attractive company. “While we pay our people well and offer stable long-term employment, it‘s the passion for mining and culture of work rooted in our company‘s values that really set us apart as an employer of choice,” says Mr Zbróg.

So what‘s life like down a modern mine, and why does KGHM have such a strong appeal for people looking for a challenging and rewarding career?

Established in 1961 as the Polish State Mining and Metallurgical Combine, KGHM has grown into a world leader in the extraction and processing of valuable metals. The company operates mines and plants in the US, Canada and Chile, as well as Poland. The most significant element of KGHM‘s business is the extraction, smelting and refining of copper. In the copper production process, KGHM also obtains precious metals, like silver, gold, palladium and platinum. The company‘s workforce brings together 18,000 employees in Poland and 2,000 in its North and South American operations. They include miners, engineers, equipment designers and environmental scientists. “Our business comes down to two sets of resources – our people and what‘s under the ground. The simple fact is we can‘t extract the value from the mines we own without highly qualified employees. They remain the precious capital of  KGHM even as technology advances,” says Mr Zbróg. “People tend to have an image of mining and smelting that‘s rooted in the industrial past. Innovations have changed all this and are crucially important to how we operate. As we strive to become more productive and cost-efficient, more and more of the extraction is carried out by machines operated by highly-trained technicians, who work and move around in air-conditioned cabins rather than having pickaxes in their hands. We‘re also seeing the impact of the robotics revolution; machines that would once have been the stuff of science fiction, become an everyday part of the way we operate. KGHM is at the cutting edge of these developments, both through our own research and development, and our collaborations with global partners.” 

 As the sector changes, it‘s vital to keep skills up to date. “We‘re very proud of the fact that people work 25 years for KGHM and sometimes even longer. But with that comes the challenge of ensuring they‘re keeping pace with developments in a sector that‘s evolving faster than ever before. Through our development centers, we‘re working to evaluate and update the competencies and technical skills of everyone from the mine-face to the management board to make sure they have all the capabilities they need,” says Mr Zbróg. The high-tech nature of the business means that talent demands are shifting. Therefore, it‘s encouraging that KGHM is first choice for Polish people with degrees taking part in the Randstad Employer Brand Research, reflecting its success in communicating the changes and opportunities within the business. And while the company is more attractive to men than women, it still has one of the best scores among female participants in the survey.

battling nature

Even with all this modernization and development, there will always be a risk where you‘re battling against what Mr Zbróg describes as the “raw power of nature”. The dangers were brought into sharp focus last year when an earthquake triggered a cave-in at KGHM‘s Rudna mining complex in south-western Poland. The loss of eight miners was the greatest tragedy in the company‘s 55-year history and felt deeply and personally by everyone within the close-knit communities that make up KGHM‘s workforce. “Safety is in our DNA – it has to be. Clearly, when you‘re underground, you can‘t eliminate the hazards altogether. But we have to do everything in our power to reduce the risks to the lowest level possible through educational programs and constantly strengthening the safeguards,” says Mr Zbróg. Technology is helping in areas such as ultra-fast communications. Employees also undergo rigorous training, which includes full scale reconstruction of accidents so they can learn what went wrong, how to prevent it, and how to respond if not. A key part of the training also looks at how to sustain vigilance. “Routine is the enemy. There is always a risk that employees stop paying enough attention to what could go wrong because nothing has happened so far – it‘s like looking at the warnings on a cigarette packet, after a while people don‘t notice them even though the danger is still very much there. If people become less conscious of the risks, safety precautions might not be followed thoroughly enough or they may forget to keep looking out for the small but significant changes that could signal danger ahead. Above all, we need to listen to our employees and involve them in developing ways to strengthen safety,” says Mr Zbróg.

pride and passion

This sense of being in it together helps to create a team spirit that is among the hallmarks of the company‘s culture. “Potential recruits are obviously attracted by the pay, training and job security. But people also appreciate the sense of community within our business. There is a pride in and passion for what we do, which is passed from one generation to the next – we have grandparents, parents and children from many of the same families working with us. And that attachment extends to the families of our employees and the communities in which we operate. We also have very clear safety expectations and a code of ethics that‘s followed wherever people work or what position they hold. The result is a sense of community, which is the essence of our employer brand. People also like the fact that we contribute so much to the economy, locally, nationally and worldwide. Here in Poland, there is a particular pride in working for a world-renowned national champion,” says Mr Zbróg.

Mr Zbróg sees KGHM‘s close working partnership with trade unions as an important part of this ‘community‘ and corporate governance as well. Unusually for a global company of this size, three of the nine members of its supervisory board are trade union representatives. Mr Zbróg himself works closely with trade union representatives, not only in the field of pay, benefits and other aspects of HR policy, but also other areas including productivity.

“Many of the trade union officials we work with have been involved with the company for decades and we can thus benefit from their knowledge and experience. We also know that when we have an agreed plan, this will have their support, which provides a useful basis for moving forward during a time of technological and strategic change,” Mr Zbróg added.

building ties worldwide

Part of the talent management and wider strategic challenge of a company that‘s becoming increasingly global is how to marry the strong and well-established culture and identity within the Polish operations with expectations and ways of working in other parts of the world. Mr Zbróg sees communication and talent exchange as crucial in bringing the cultures together. For example, all the leaders from the different territories in his HR team come together for a weekly video conference. The company also encourages employees from Poland to go to North and South America and vice-versa to help strengthen ties and develop international experience. One of Mr Zbróg‘s close colleagues has come over from the company‘s Chilean operation, and his input has helped to provide valuable insights into the way colleagues in Chile think and work, for example. “I believe the key to encouraging mobility and making it work is providing opportunities to develop new and more valuable skills and experiences, which will help to take both the company and the individual‘s career forward,” says Mr Zbróg.

So what can other companies learn from KGHM? As with many of the companies featured in this year‘s edition of Standing Out, this is an organization that combines cutting edge innovation with good pay, financial strength and longstanding cultural traditions. For a son or daughter following a parent into the business, the work isn‘t as physically grueling and the working environment isn‘t as cramped and dirty as the parent would have experienced at the beginning of their career. But this is still highly challenging and potentially dangerous work, which demands knowledge, rigor and bravery to carry it out effectively. KGHM‘s employees take great pride in these attributes. They also inspire an admiration that draws potential recruits to the company.