Interview: Jülich as an Attractive IT Employer

An interview by Boris Mayer, originally published in German on on 8 November 2022, 12:42 p.m.

Forschungszentrum Jülich offers many exciting opportunities for candidates with a background in computer science and data science. Learn more in the interview with Golem and our colleagues Alissa Aarts and Bianka Fernengel.

In research, fluctuation is a positive thing

Forschungszentrum Jülich is one of the largest research institutions in Europe. The teams are more international and diverse than in many companies - and the jobs are not permanent.

The modular supercomputer JUWELS, consisting of a cluster and a booster module, is the flagship of the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC) with a peak performance of 85 PFLOPS.

Working in a research centre sounds interesting to many, but not many people know what it actually entails. The combination of a national institution that appears to be a public authority, the operation of elementary research infrastructures, such as supercomputers, and research at the cutting edge, as is the case at Forschungszentrum Jülich, is difficult for many to reconcile. In the survey by and Statista to find the best employer, Forschungszentrum Jülich just missed the top 100 in the overall ranking. 103rd place is certainly not a bad result among more than 2,000 employers, but in the diversity category it went much further up the rankings, reaching sixth place among the top ten.

In an interview with Senior Recruiter Bianka Fernengel and Human Resources Marketing Officer Alissa Aarts from the Forschungszentrum Jülich, we explore the question of how IT jobs there differ from those in the business world - from general conditions and jobs to the demands on employees and candidates themselves. Do research institutes have an advantage over the private sector when it comes to diversity?

Alissa: As one of the largest research centres in Europe, Forschungszentrum Jülich is naturally very international. In science, it is quite normal for people from many cultures and countries to work together. Openness and curiosity are part of the DNA of science. That could be an advantage. In addition, more and more people are looking for meaningful work - and research institutions like Jülich can naturally score points in this regard. Here, you can work on the solution of crucial challenges, such as the energy transition or climate protection. How international are the applicants for the research centre?

Bianka: Very! Almost 50 percent of our colleagues working in science have an international background. The working language in many institutes is English. In addition, there are many project partnerships with international institutions and companies. Research stays abroad are supported. This international outlook is also reflected in the applications. Applications from and interviews with people from many countries are on our agenda. We generally welcome applications from people with diverse backgrounds, e.g. in terms of age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or identity, as well as social, ethnic and religious origin. An equal-opportunity, diverse and inclusive working environment in which everyone can realize their potential is important to us. Why?

Alissa: The diversity of our employees is a key success factor: it enables innovation, creativity and the integration of many perspectives on the same issue - scientific, technical, administrative or strategic. Forschungszentrum Jülich promotes an open and inclusive corporate culture in which all employees can develop to the best of their abilities, and we are very pleased that this is obviously also visible to the outside world. Are there any disadvantages to working in a research institution like yours?

Alissa: In addition to all the advantages offered to employees at an international and interdisciplinary research institution like Forschungszentrum Jülich, the issues of salary and fixed-term contracts are probably the biggest disadvantages from the employees' point of view. We pay according to the collective agreement of the federal public service and the majority of the advertized academic positions are also temporary due to limited funding. We cannot pay top salaries; we are somewhat in the midfield on this issue. However, according to our experience, the overall package is key.

Interview: Jülich as an Attractive IT Employer The FZJ consists of eleven institutes. Are there differences there for the employees?

Alissa: The institutes are dedicated to different topics and the employees have individual, specific expertise accordingly, but there are no general differences between the institutes that affect the employees. What role does the location play?

Bianka: The location plays a major role in many cases. The campus at our main site in Jülich is very attractive; here high-tech meets nature. You can walk across the green campus and see a deer grazing right next to one of the world's fastest supercomputers.

At the same time, the campus is not easily accessible by public transport. However, it is possible to join one of the numerous carpools that exist on campus. The grounds with a centrally located lake and the surrounding area are great for walks or sports, which can help to clear your head or to exchange ideas with colleagues in a relaxed atmosphere.

There are both individual and group offices for up to six people, laboratories, workshops, tea kitchens, break and meeting rooms, networking areas, roof terraces, outdoor seating areas, etc. The Jülich campus also features our canteen, the Seecasino, and the central library, including a reading garden - two highly frequented, central locations that are popular with our staff.

In addition to the campus in Jülich, individual institutes also have branch offices, e.g. in Münster, Erlangen and Garching. And increasingly, our employees can also work from home, thus reducing the importance of the location and the use of resources for commuting. How do you attract candidates?

Bianka: With a range of different methods. We use diverse marketing measures, and attend career fairs and events. In addition, there are job advertisements on our website and in other relevant, suitable job exchanges - both generalists, such as Stepstone and LinkedIn, but also subject-specific or scientific exchanges, such as ResearchGate. And we also use networks and mailing lists. We also have a referral programme: employees recruiting employees.

We are often looking for very highly qualified and specialized job profiles, which are hard to find by conventional means. That's why we make great use of the networks of the scientific communities that our employees bring with them. This is a great opportunity for us.

Interview: Jülich as an Attractive IT Employer How high is the proportion of women in IT?

Alissa: Definitely still too low! What is being done to target female applicants?

Alissa: Among other things, we take part in career events and also organize formats ourselves where we specifically come into contact with interested female candidates. We also always involve female colleagues from academia in these events. Furthermore, in our external presentation, for example on our career website, we make sure to make women visible and thus offer potential female candidates the opportunity to identify with us. For example, many female colleagues give an insight into their daily work in the category "Voices of our employees". What do you think is particularly important to job candidates when they are considering accepting an offer?

Bianka: We are increasingly noticing that it is no longer just the salary that motivates applicants to accept a position. Other factors, such as good training and development opportunities or a good work-life balance, are also playing an increasingly important role. In this respect, we can often put together a very attractive package with numerous offers, e.g. on the compatibility of work and family, diversity & inclusion, our large further training portfolio, etc. In addition, people are finding the meaningfulness of their work increasingly important. Here too, with our benefit-inspired research in numerous socially relevant areas - e.g. supercomputing, quantum technology, hydrogen, climate research, structural change, bioeconomy - we offer a very attractive opportunity to help shape the transformation of society. As a research centre, you probably attach a lot of importance to academic degrees. How much difference does it make which university or college a bachelor's, master's, diploma or doctorate degree comes from?

Bianka: Of course, in some areas there are certain universities that have a particularly good reputation in the respective field. However, education in Germany is basically well and uniformly regulated, so it doesn't make much difference at which university you obtained your bachelor's or master's degree. This is not as uniformly regulated for international degrees, which is why it is important that a degree can also be recognized in Germany. However, there are official testing centres (ZAB, Anabin database). We also maintain very good cooperation with many universities. Many of the Jülich scientists themselves teach at a university, and more than 150 are also jointly appointed professors. In this way, we bring the latest research into teaching and make contact with the students, who often write their final thesis or dissertation with us.

Interview: Jülich as an attractive IT employer What would an ideal candidate look like?

Bianka: It is not possible to describe fixed criteria for an ideal candidate. This always depends on the particular position to be filled and the corresponding environment. In general, it is of course important that candidates already have most of the necessary expertise. However, it is not necessary that all requirements are fulfilled 100 per cent. Some knowledge can also be learned later or taught "on the job".

Soft skills such as organizational ability and the ability to work in a team also play a major role. The motivation for the position is also very important to us, and that the candidates can convey to us that they really want to work for us. And we want interviews to be conducted at eye level. We also introduce ourselves as employers to ensure the best possible transparency with regard to what we have to offer. This ensures that the candidate can compare this information with his or her own expectations of the employer of choice when making a decision. Have there been any changes in terms of staff turnover in the last few years?

Alissa: Staff turnover is quite high at Forschungszentrum Jülich, as at other scientific institutions. This is also very important for science, which benefits from exchange and new ideas. This leads to temporary positions, such as a doctorate (which at Forschungszentrum Jülich is designed to last three years) or positions within the framework of (research) projects. This results in an annual staffing requirement of over 800 positions across all entry levels. However, we would like to prepare all those who work at Jülich on a temporary basis for their next career step, so that they can move forward in a stronger position. To this end, we have created a career centre that provides advice and information, especially for junior staff. What are the chances of promotion? Are there fixed target agreements and promotion procedures or is it also possible to move up, so to speak, unscheduled, depending on performance?

Alissa: As science often works less in fixed career paths like in public authorities, there are no fixed predefined promotions with us. In a very dynamic environment and in a company with more than 7,000 employees, there are of course many opportunities for development. This applies to research, but also to the technical infrastructure and administration. Even though we have more temporary employment contracts than other companies for scientific reasons, many employees have continued to develop at Jülich and therefore often remain with us for a long time. We have colleagues who have completed their vocational training with us and are now managers with considerable personnel responsibility.

Interview: Jülich as an Attractive IT Employer Does training in the classical sense play a role in a research centre?

Bianka: Yes. A research centre must always be at the forefront in terms of know-how. We promote the development of our employees and offer a wide range of internal and external training and further education (language courses, interdisciplinary training, interdisciplinary skills such as leadership and project management). In consultation with the manager and HR development, the appropriate training courses for the tasks and personal development are selected. Do you rely more on internal or external training opportunities?

Bianka: Both. We have a very large internal training catalogue with more than 250 courses on various topics, e.g. IT, project, process and change management, communication and personal development, human resources and law as well as languages, which we offer to all employees. Our staff members are regularly informed about trainings taking place with the help of a training newsletter. Of course, we cannot offer all training courses internally, but also make use of a wide range of external offers according to demand. Do you have rules/agreements for this?

Bianka: Yes, there is among other things a funding guideline according to which we support, for example, in-service measures with a recognized qualification such as a bachelor's or master's degree. We support employees and their managers in identifying individual needs and finding suitable training measures. We use our staff appraisals for this purpose. Were there opportunities during the pandemic to attend such courses remotely?

Bianka: Yes! We have already moved a large part of the courses to remote - this will probably continue to some extent after the pandemic, as we have seen that many trainings work just as well remotely and are even more attractive to employees as they can participate from the comfort of their own homes. Remotely, we can also make cross-location offers more easily. At the same time, there will continue to be training courses that have great added value as face-to-face events, for example on leadership topics. How do you engage in training / cooperative studies, what is on offer there?

Bianka: Our Central Vocational Training Department contributes to the recruitment of qualified young professionals by providing initial vocational training and coordinating internships for pupils and students. Since its foundation, more than 6,000 people have completed vocational training at Forschungszentrum Jülich. We offer more than 20 apprenticeships and more than ten dual courses of study, also in the IT field. Here, there are very good opportunities for attractive career prospect following an apprenticeship. Professional trainers ensure a high level of quality in vocational training to meet the specific demand requirements in research and infrastructure. In many companies there are goodies intended to ensure better and happier cooperation in everyday working life. Starting with free tea and coffee, juices, fruit or snacks, sports and other leisure activities, childcare or the possibility of booking a massage or perhaps saving up working time on a time account for a sabbatical, there are endless possibilities. What incentives do you offer?

Bianka: There are a large number of benefits for employees at Forschungszentrum Jülich: a variety of different working time models, a large further training catalogue, home office opportunities, various sports programmes, support with career planning, the Seecasino as well as help with finding day or regular care for children, to name but a few. Our Pakadoo parcel service, where employees can have private parcels delivered to a packing station on campus, was also very popular, especially before the pandemic. You can find all the benefits here: Is there anything that is particularly popular?

Bianka: The flexible working hours to balance work and private life are very much appreciated by many employees, as are the international environment and the family-conscious corporate policy. The option of working from home is also very often offered and taken advantage of, especially since the pandemic. Can employees make suggestions for new ideas?

Bianka: Yes, we have an idea management system at Forschungszentrum Jülich where all employees can submit their ideas, which are awarded with bonuses if they are confirmed by the committee. We are currently also running a special idea marathon in which every accepted idea receives a surprise prize, irrespective of a possible award. Is there anything that would actually be great, but for some reason does not work/function?

Bianka: Job bike leasing (financing through deferred compensation is not yet possible at Forschungszentrum Jülich under the TVöD Bund) and a public transport job ticket (due to the location of the campus, agreements would have to be made with several transport associations, which has not yet been successful). But we are working on this… Are there rules/possibilities for switching from full-time to 60 or 50 percent and vice versa?

Bianka: In agreement with their manager, employees of Forschungszentrum Jülich have the option of reducing their contractually agreed weekly working hours. Many colleagues - including managers - make use of this option. This makes it much easier to find a good work/life balance. Are there offers especially for single parents?

Interview: Jülich as an Attractive IT Employer

Bianka: There is a lot of support for childcare at Forschungszentrum Jülich. For example, there is the "Kleine Füchse e.V." day care centre on campus, where children aged four months to 14 years are looked after throughout the day. Support is available in finding day care or regular childcare, various holiday childcare options are available, childcare can be coordinated during events at Forschungszentrum Jülich, and childcare costs can be reimbursed if needed. A highlight is certainly the (mobile) parent-child workroom, where employees can use their own office, the meeting room or a permanently installed parent-child workroom in case of childcare emergencies. Our family service provides advice on the choice of the right form of care and arranges suitable solutions for childcare or household-related services. Part-time vocational training is also possible.

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Last Modified: 23.04.2024