30 years in HR, part 2: trainee

The four musketeers

There we were. Four ambitious trainees: three psychologists and one sociologist. One of the other psychologists had studied architecture for one year, and that was a fact we had to hear multiple times in the coming months, as that gave him, in his perception, a big advantage. This gave him more-or-less a technical background, important in Philips. We (“the four musketeers” as we were labeled later, and this was not meant to be positive) were going to teach Philips a lesson. Generation Y avant-la-lettre. The first three months were in Eindhoven.

Scheduled were various interviews with all kind of Philips executives and managers. Also visits to other locations of Philips in The Netherlands. In 1974 Philips Electronics had 412,000 employees worldwide. In 1982, the year of our start, this was 360,000. Around 70,000 in The Netherlands. Philips was big, and the global centre was Eindhoven. And that was where we, rightfully, started. The Personnel Department was also big, the Philips Ministry of Personnel.

To fill the gap between all the interviews and visits they gave us a home in a department where we good do no harm, the department of Industrial Psychology. There was a big research going on investigating the root causes of absenteeism. I had to look for the common traits in people that had never missed one day of work for ten years or more. My conclusion, after weeks of thorough investigation, was that their main common factor was that they had never missed one day of work for ten years or more….

My starting salary was 41,300 guilders per year (EUR 18,741). As we were the first trainees in Personnel in Philips, they gave us, during the traineeship, the same allowance they gave internal technical staff that were trained to be personnel managers. Our housing in Eindhoven was paid, and we got an enormous allowance per day (EUR 50?), for food and entertainment. On June 30 we had been poor students with nothing to spend, and suddenly we were rich.

Trainees wear brogues

We bought nice suits, blue blazers and several pairs of shoes (mainly brogues, in my memory). Imagine you are the manager of the sub-unit responsible for recruitment of non-technical staff region south. One day there is a slot in your diary: introduction trainees. Enter four young men. Blue blazer, gray flannel trousers and notepad in their hand to capture your wisdom. They take off their jacket, hang it on their chairs, and they start “interviewing” you. You hardly get time to answer, because they are so eager to tell you their views.

This did not work well in Philips. After one week everybody new us. The general opinion was that this innovation, Traineeship Personnel, would not live long (in fact, there was one group of three after us, and then the traineeship was stopped).
Three months in Eindhoven, two month working in production in a factory (for me the then largest shaver factory in the world in Drachten, The Netherlands) and two months working as assistant in a Personnel Department in a factory (for me a vacuum-cleaner factory in Hoogeveen, boring, very boring…).

Nearly ready for the first job…

The Management Development Department section Personnel had planned the eight months.  They had no clear idea what our real first job would be after that. Our first job that would launch us on the fast track to become Head of the Personnel Department (“HPD”) or even better, Head of Social Affairs (“HSZ”). I can imagine that, given the image we had left behind, the “HPD’s”  were not lining up to have one of these wise-guys in his/her team. As the end of the eight months was nearing, anxiety increased. Where would our first placement be? The most popular of the team was transferred first. I hoped I would not end up in one of the Philips Siberia locations… As a trainee you could be send anywhere.

In February 1983 I got my verdict from the MD manager. On March 1 I had to report in Hengelo, at the main location of the Defense and Control System Division of Philips. As I had studied in Groningen, they thought Hengelo (nearly Germany) would be no problem for me. I packed my suitcase, and drove to Hengelo (yes, I had of course immediately bought a car from my first salary).

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