Intel is a global company headquartered in the US. Known primarily as the world's leading company in the field of microprocessor planning and production, the company has 86,000 employees at branches around the world.
With its founding in 1974 the Israeli branch became Intel's first development center outside of the US. Today Intel Israel has development centers in Haifa, Jerusalem and Petach Tikva, as well as production plants in Jerusalem and Kiryat Gat, where the company develops and manufactures microprocessors and communications products. The company now has 6,200 employees in Israel following last year's drive to recruit and train 2,000 workers who currently man the company's new Kiryat Gat facility, Fab28.
We spoke with Nirit Cohen, deputy director of human resources at Intel Israel, on employee management at the company.
Where are the company workers in Israel concentrated?
Nirit Cohen: In Kiryat Gat 2,000 workers will be employed at the new Fab28 plant. The remaining workers are at the development centers in Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, Yakum and Yokneam.
Who are the "laborers" at the factories?
The word "factories" is a bit misleading. Though it is production work, it's very sophisticated. Most of the employees at Intel are high-tech personnel – engineers, practical engineers and technicians. Intel does not have any laborers in the classical sense of the word – workingmen without an education in technology. For instance, at Kiryat Gat we'll be operating a clean room currently under construction and it will be the biggest in the world. It's a sophisticated, state-of-the-art production system. Education in technology here in Israel has suffered in recent years and there was a shortage of practical engineers and technicians. Fewer people are choosing to study these professions. Today people prefer to study engineering and get an engineering degree.
Do you maintain contact with the universities regarding this matter?
Definitely. This is a very important issue to us. The Human Resources Department has a section for academic liaison. We're in constant contact with universities and technology colleges and assess whether what they teach is relevant to our needs.
For the past two years we've been conducting an accelerated recruitment process of 2,000 employees. For example, in certain cases we found people were not being recruited just because of an inadequate working knowledge of English. We came to the conclusion it wasn't right to reject people with technological abilities for this reason alone, so we provided candidates a course in English to allow us to screen them better. We met with the representatives of the academic institutions to discuss with them the matter of improving the level of English studies to keep this problem from repeating itself. Another example: We run the Ofek program with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, training people who lack a background in technology to work here in the clean room.
Is the demand for practical engineers and technicians primarily at the Kiryat Gat facilities?
Yes, although there are practical engineers at the development center, too, mostly employed as circuit workers. In 2007 we recruited 60 practical engineers for the development centers in Yakum and Haifa, and this year we've recruited 25 practical engineers for these centers. We also have a lot of tangential professions the public is less aware of, e.g. a considerable number of employees in finance and purchasing. The Human Resources Department alone has over 100 employees. A very interesting and challenging position at the factories, which combines technological know-how and management or command experience, is the job of production group leader. It can also provide a career for those who want flexibility in their lives, people who want to do other things as well. The factory has seven weekly shifts, so employees here can arrange free days.
One of the common problems at high-tech organizations, especially large organizations like Intel that need hundreds of managers, is that people get hired based on their technological abilities, but some of them turn out to be unsuitable for management positions.
Not every high-tech person is necessarily a good manager, but we try to create a situation in which our managers are good managers. At the same time we offer those who are unsuitable for management positions more appropriate promotion tracks. A lack of suitability for management positions can be identified during ability assessments or may stem from a lack of desire on the part of the employee to become a manager. This type of worker wants to advance technologically and we make it possible.
Where do the boundaries of technological advancement lie? At the end of the day it's managers who are on the top rungs.
Not necessarily. We have technology advancement tracks up to the highest levels. They're no different from managerial ranks. At Intel you'll find professionals who are not managers, yet their compensation and status at the company is very high. This advancement can be not just within Intel Israel, but all of Intel. For instance, I'm a deputy director in Israel, but there are technology people who definitely rank higher than me. These kinds of people have broad freedom of action. They can choose what they want to work on or the framework they feel they're best suited for.
This can create a situation in which such a technology star might rank higher than his manager.
Definitely. For example, there can be a situation in which his direct supervisor is at a lower salary level.
It must be hard to manage people like that.
Sometimes, so generally those who manage them are people similar to them who have management skills and want to work in management. Our job is to ensure that our managers are good managers and they don't necessarily have to be the best technology people. Our worker is entitled to have a manager who knows how to manage right. We invest a lot in resources, money and man-hours, to identify the managers' capabilities and develop them at the various levels of management. We consider this one of our foremost tasks.
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How does the organizational culture of the US company fit in with the local Israeli culture?
This is an issue every global company has to grapple with. For instance, Intel is clearly a meritocracy, meaning emphasis is placed on rewarding performance. Parallels are drawn in every country. For example, creativity. Not taking no for an answer, but continuing to delve. It's no coincidence that the Centrino [an advanced processor developed by Intel] was conceived in Israel.
Another readily apparent characteristic of Intel culture is the ethical standards. This is a workplace where anybody who has worked here takes with him something that can be used in life.
Intel is a company with a good reputation. It's not by chance that it was selected as a prominent organization that's good to work at, both in terms of the entire job market and among high-tech workers and students.
Do you forego aspects of American culture that are not suited to the Israeli milieu?
There are no hard and fast rules. For instance, in Israel it's harder to introduce disciplinary guidelines and meeting timetables. But because these rules of conduct are important to us, we invest more energy to inculcate them.
Another example: Intel has a principle of "copy exactly," meaning if, for example, a factory was built successfully in the past, when a similar factory is built there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes Israeli workers have a tendency to make changes, trying to make improvements even when it may not be necessary. In such a case a balance has to be found between the desire to be efficient and the desire not to suppress people's natural creativity.
How flexible are Intel's employment policies?
As a high-tech company we allow our workers to enjoy what the technology provides, such as the possibility of working out of any location, including working at home, of course. We introduced a telecommuting option in the year 2000 when this type of working arrangement was not yet common in the high-tech industry. If necessary the employee and the manager can agree on flexible hours to make the job meet both of their needs.
Is there a time clock?
No. What for? In a meritocracy employees aren't judged according to their work hours, but rather their output. How well they meet expectations. The question of work hours is particularly meaningful in our industry because there's a lot of interaction with the West Coast of the US, where there's a 10-hour time difference. It used to be that our workers had to stay at work until late, but today the situation has changed. The worker has the right to do his work at home after putting the kids to sleep.
Does this approach make it easier for women in particular?
We don't see any difference between men and women in this matter. In our generation men are also unwilling not to have some time at home. For women there's an option of joining a gradual return program following a maternity leave. For eight months they can reduce their hours to as little as 50% of fulltime, and 75% for the next four months.
If technology makes it possible to work at home, based on the meritocracy culture the employee can work at home all week long.
That's a question we discussed and we decided to allow working at home no more than one day a week. A company is an entity that has to work together in harmony. There are places outside of Israel where organizations operate with their employees at home. This wasn't right for us because we have a lot of teamwork and interaction among the employees. Therefore we cannot forego personal, direct contact among employees. But this is not an open-and-shut matter, but a decision that has to be reevaluated every few years. Technology is constantly developing and allowing more communication that in the past, so one day it could work out.
Are most of the employees you recruit students?
We recruit hundred of people every year. It's an ongoing process. We've always been growing, even when the high-tech industry fell into a crisis. A large portion of new workers are indeed students and 70% of them are recruited among students already working here. Intel has hundreds of students acquiring experience in real work situations, not "student jobs," so when we recruit them as professionals they also have experience they've gained here.
Of course we take into account the fact that they're students. They're employed part-time to fit in with their studies. We recognize that they need time to study, too. For example, they can work more during the summer and arrange vacations during exam periods.
We don't hire students only for high-tech professions. You'll also find them in finance and human resources.
During the recruitment and screening process, how much weight is given to the reputation of the institution the student attends or attended?
We relate primarily to the student's abilities, but over the course of time we do notice who comes from which institution and which institutions produce more successful graduates and which less. Of course this may be taken into consideration.
Which recruitment tools are the most effective?
As is typical in high tech, personnel referrals. It seems our employees know best which people are best suited to work here. We've also found that the success rate of placement of workers who come through this channel are higher than any other channel. Also, a new recruitment source that's taking on is the Internet.