Some people have 17 jobs before they turn 25, while some seventy-year-olds have the same employer their whole life. Kjell Arne Nilsen has worked more than 50 years at Hydro Holmestrand – just like his father before him. The reason? "Good health, job satisfaction and great colleagues," he says, though family also played a part.
When he retired in 1981, Kjell Arne's father, Ernst, had worked as a mechanic for 52 years in the same company. Fifty years ago he may well have had something to do with his son being offered a job at the rolling mill in Holmestrand where Ernst had worked ever since it was under construction in the 1920s. The business was founded in 1917, and is the oldest Norwegian aluminium refinery still in operation.
Recycled aluminium is a climate winner
In the early years the plant produced tinned cans and Høyang kitchen utensils, as well as a broad spectrum of other aluminium products. The Holmestrand plant was a competence center in refinery processes, and the company is a pioneer in recycling, a technology that requires only five per cent of the energy needed for primary production of this light metal. This makes aluminium a climate winner.
Kjell Arne Nilsen was just 16 years old when he worked his first day at the laboratory in 1968. For a weekly wage of NOK 100, he tested product quality using a tensile testing machine. Did the aluminium ship plates have the required strength? Could the product tolerate being stretched as much as it would be during future use? Everything was done manually. Strength per square millimeter was carefully measured, and the results written down and calculated by hand.
There were no computers back then, not even a simple calculator. Today, advanced technology has taken over most production tasks.
Aluminium wheels for Volvo, Saab and BMW
Later on he was involved in developing the aluminium disc wheel, an ultra-light wheel that was supplied to car manufacturers like Volvo, Saab and BMW to be used as spare wheels. Those were exciting and challenging times. He was also involved in developing the recyclable tea light.
Times have changed. Since a restructuring process in 2003, Kjell Arne has worked on post-processing and packing in the production division, which meant that he had to start working shifts. This was quite a transition for someone who by that time was over 50 years, but he thinks it went fine.
Safety and continuous improvement at Hydro Holmestrand
Working conditions in the rolling mill are highly organized and orderly. The emphasis on safety and continuous improvement has intensified since Hydro took over in 1986. Everything must be kept neat and tidy. Some colleagues probably think things are taken a bit too far. Kjell Arne is one of those who takes safety seriously even outside the workplace, on his way home from work, in traffic and on trips into the countryside. Maybe that's one of the reasons why he has not taken sick leave since a foot infection kept him from going to work for a few days in 1985.
He enjoys living high up on a mountain overlooking the Oslo fjord. He has lived in Holmestrand his whole life, but often travels around Norway and abroad. Change creates motivation Hydro Holmestrand had 1 400 employees when Kjell Arne joined; although there are only 400 now, their jobs are safe, which has not always been the case.
"The demands made on us are tough, but I feel that we're shown respect and that communication is good, both between colleagues and with management. It's good to know that I'm still needed," says Kjell Arne, close to 70 years of age.
We are aluminium.