Seed World

Focus on Personal and Professional Education

Although KWS employs many successful tactics when it comes to recruitment and retention, its focus on continuing education, both professionally and socially, is particularly attractive to today’s talent
KWS is a world leader when it comes to agricultural plant breeding companies. The company has a long tradition of family ownership, and has operated independently for some 160 years. Thus, while rooted in tradition, the company is also cosmopolitan, and continues to grow internationally.

Long-term planning, investment in research and development, and a corporate culture that focusses on employees are the basis of the company’s business success. ‘KWS fits employees who are authentic and wish to be actively involved in the company. New employees soon recognize the company’s special culture and realize within this flat structure, every contribution is vital’, says Jaana Saarteinen-Erben, Head of Corporate Human Resources at KWS.

With activities in more than 70 countries, KWS offers good prospects with respect to employment abroad. Employees seeking internationality as a crucial criterion, thus find a host of possibilities at the company. This is also the case for those individuals who are looking for a career path with the option of taking on responsibility. Here, supporting programs, such as training and workshops are on offer in all areas and levels.

Janna Saarteinen-Erben, Head of Corporate Human Resources at KWS SAAT SE
Janna Saarteinen-Erben, Head of Corporate
Human Resources at KWS SAAT SE

‘On the other hand, employees will find understanding if their life situations should make it necessary for them to focus more of their energy on other areas of their lives. Those are the foundations that make KWS an attractive employer and that we use for recruitment’, says Saarteinen-Erben. ‘Honesty and authenticity are crucial in communication with potential employees, in order to keep mutual expectations realistic’.

However, with a shortage of well-trained candidates, finding the right employees can be a challenge. To find suitable employees, KWS precisely defines the target group in order to understand where to find and how to approach potential employees. This means cooperation on an international scale with universities and other institutes.

‘On top of this, KWS supports numerous scholarships and projects’, says Saarteinen-Erben. ‘In all these activities, communicating at eye level is decisive’, she says. Moreover, the company puts emphasis on being transparent in its positions on important industry issues. In this day and age, people are well informed and demand answers, including those on difficult topics.

‘They are not only interested in their new role, but also in the working environment’, says Saarteinen-Erben. ‘Thus, a good corporate culture is also the basis for successful recruitment’. At the same time, it is important for a global company to develop various offers, since target groups differ nationally.

Human Resource Development

When it comes to its HR approach, KWS considers sustainable and holistic development of their employees’ individual potentials an essential element, which applies to both professional and social skills. This translates into several different approaches:

• Employee-supervisor Dialogue

KWS has developed a new form of employee-supervisor dialogue as group policy. The employee-supervisor dialogue is therefore one of the tools that creates a common foundation in the face of continuous growth and increasing internationalization. It creates an essential prerequisite for a successful, goal-oriented working together and fosters collaboration. ‘It gives the opportunity to discuss, beyond the day-to-day work activities, about goal relevant cooperation, the realization of agreed targets. It focuses on the employee’s development and growth, as she or he is asked to formulate her or his needs’ and interests’, says Saarteinen-Erben. Together the employee and supervisor can determine appropriate tasks and projects to build the employee’s capabilities.

Comprehensive Seminar Program

Employees have the opportunity of choosing suitable additional training measures. The human resource development sector is, as an in-house service provider, at the side of every employee to point out all opportunities at a methodical and structural level and in terms of content.

• Trainee Program

KWS offers newcomers after their studies the possibility of taking on professional responsibility as a trainee in a priority sector within the framework of a two-year program. The trainee will be introduced to different departments, both domestic and abroad, as an intern. ‘In doing so, the focus is always on the personal and professional education of our trainees’, says Saarteinen-Erben. The program also allows the possibility to have a closer look into other areas.

• International Development Program (IDP) 

The IDP helps junior executives prepare for the challenges of the business world in the coming decade. Taking into account the company’s principles, this three-stage program develops their ability to work in an international context and underscores the importance of collaboration with others at and outside KWS.

• Internal Mentoring Program

In addition to that since 2013 there is an internal mentoring program, in which each participant gets a top manager as a mentor. ‘This mentoring is well established and very popular worldwide, especially because the relationship is long enduring’, says Saarteinen-Erben. The mentoring is not only popular among the young professionals but also among the mentors.

KWS Breeders’ Academy 

Another recruitment and retention success is the KWS Breeders’ Academy, which is both a training and job entrance program for crop breeders. The academy is a hands-on training program supervised by experienced senior breeders. The two years of training are split up into two countries, two crops and two supervisors. An essential part of the training is assuming responsibility for certain parts of KWS breeding programs. Additionally, individuals can participate in specific university classes.


KWS is one of the world’s leading plant breeding companies. In the fiscal year 2014/15, 4,700 employees in 70 countries generated net sales of €986 million and earnings before interest and taxes of €113 million. A company with a tradition of family ownership, KWS has operated independently for some 160 years. It focuses on plant breeding and the production and sale of seed for corn, sugar beet, cereals, rapeseed and sunflowers. KWS uses leading-edge plant breeding methods to continuously improve yield and resistance to diseases, pests and abiotic stress. To that end, the company invested €174 million during the last fiscal year in research and development—17.7 per cent of its net sales.