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Suspended from the ceiling of wienerberger’s production plant in Haiding, Austria, is a complex system of rails with grippers. It quite literally gives the production team a helping hand: In the past, the 24 kg infilled bricks were removed from the production line by hand but nowadays, workers operate the grippers instead, eliminating the need for such physically strenuous tasks. This also opens up many new opportunities for wienerberger as an employer – because employees can now focus on those aspects of the job that require brains not brawn.

An industrial worker dressed for the job © Daniel Hinterramskogler

What Does Blue Collar Actually Mean?

The term “blue-collar worker” has its origins in the blue collar of the overalls traditionally worn by workers with physically demanding jobs or those in the trades – for example in factories or on building sites. In contrast, “white collar workers” tended to work in office settings and were traditionally expected to wear a white shirt and suit. Nowadays, however, the term blue-collar says nothing about skill levels or the type of remuneration such workers receive. 

Blue-Collar Work: At the Heart of wienerberger

“Digitalization is making our employees’ lives easier on many different levels,” explains Sissy Sonnleitner, HR Director Austria for Wienerberger Austria and Pipelife Austria. We are seeing a lot of exciting developments, especially in the blue-collar sector – particularly in those areas that involve heavy manual labor, such as production, maintenance and warehousing. Approximately 80 percent of wienerberger’s workforce are employed in these areas. Smart, digitally networked Industry 4.0 is opening up new opportunities and changing job profiles – which is precisely why lifelong learning is so important.


“Even automated processes need people to monitor and operate them. Without these people, we would be unable to manufacture or deliver our products,“ says Sissy Sonnleitner. In fact, jobs and career opportunities for highly skilled blue-collar workers are on the rise, be it in systems technology, process technology, automation technology and plastics technology. wienerberger encourages personal and professional development and allows employees to take educational leave. The next generation, for example, the apprentices, also benefit from the wealth of experience of the company’s many skilled employees. Read more here: Exploring the World of wienerberger as an Apprentice.

“Even automated processes need people to monitor and operate them. Without these people, we would be unable to manufacture or deliver our products.“

woman smiling into camera

Sissy Sonnleitner

HR Director Austria for Wienerberger Austria and Pipelife Austria

Katharina Schiffl

Blue-Collar Careers with Creativity and Flexibility

Furthermore, members of the workforce give wienerberger a great deal of feedback thus contributing to innovation. Creativity and an ability to improvise are therefore in demand. For example, if machinery fails at night, a plant needs experienced workers who can take action to get the equipment up and running again. A Standard Operating Procedure is now in place for such cases. In addition, QR codes have been placed on the machines and can be used to call up information on frequent faults and solutions.

Flexibility and adaptability are as important in the blue-collar world as anywhere else. One example: Wienerberger Bausysteme GmbH produces made-to-measure prefabricated walls. One week, the workforce makes more prefabricated houses, in another fewer - depending on the order book. This enables workers to benefit from more flexible working time models. 

Question to HR Director Austria Sissy Sonnleitner

What qualities do blue-collar workers need today?

Employee inspecting a pipe © Daniel Hinterramskogler

These qualities are a big plus in production, maintenance and in the warehouse:

  • Common sense
  • Integrity
  • Affinity for new technologies
  • Communication skills
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Initiative
  • Passion and creativity

More Women Interested in Blue-Collar Jobs

Automation and digitalization are reducing physical stress and improving efficiency as nowadays less strength is required to perform blue-collar work. At the same time, safety has improved by leaps and bounds. Precautions such as safety light curtains stop machinery if a person crosses into a hazardous area. “All of this reduces the physical and mental strain on our staff who work in production, maintenance and warehouses,” says Sissy Sonnleitner. This makes wienerberger even more attractive as an employer.

“In our Austrian brick plant in Hennersdorf we recently welcomed our first female mechatronics apprentice,” Sonnleitner says proudly. At one of the Pipelife production plants in Sweden, the percentage of women working in production has already reached 60 percent. And these are just two examples. “We need pioneers like these to show girls and women the variety of jobs and opportunities that are available to them at our production sites.” 

Innovation Through Feedback

How an Employee Helped Reduce Plastic Waste

At wienerberger, employees actively help shape their working environment: According to the Japanese Kaizen business philosophy, continuously striving for incremental positive change leads to big improvements one step at a time. wienerberger production sites use a digital system to share examples of best practice with one another - for example, cooling the working environment in brick plants with an industrial mist fan.

An employee in an English plant suggested shredding the plastic packing straps used for shipping products. Ordinarily, cutting waste from packaging material is disposed of in plastic bags. If it is shredded, it takes up less space and thus requires fewer bags, helping avoid a considerable amount of plastic waste. This measure is now set to be implemented at other production sites in future. There are also opportunities for dialogue and sharing new ideas. Stefan Ableidinger, for example, an apprentice at Wienerberger Austria, spent several weeks gaining exciting insights at Wienerberger UK, which he was then able to present to his management team at home.

Industrial workers smiling at the camera © Daniel Hinterramskogler

From handier tools to more flexible working time models involving a 4-day week or part-time employment – numerous production plants are seeking and implementing solutions to make working conditions even more attractive for blue-collar workers. Some other examples: Wherever possible, night and weekend shifts are being reduced. Working overtime in advance allows employees to take longer holidays and enjoy compensatory time off in blocks. Paid standby times and troubleshooting from home are now also possible thanks to digital real-time monitoring.

You can read more about wienerberger as an employer in the interview with Senior Vice President Group HR Ulrike Baumgartner-Foisner: “We always seek individual solutions”.

A shop floor worker with a hot glue gun: wienerberger offers a variety of career paths. © Pipelife Norway

Careers at wienerberger

wienerberger employs more than 19,000 people in 27 countries. Do you want to take on new challenges in production, maintenance or warehousing? If so, wienerberger looks forward to receiving your application. A list of apprenticeship opportunities at headquarters and in the country organizations can be found here: Current Openings.

Learn more about wienerberger

Child hold hand of a women, walking

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Apprentice at Wienerberger © Wienerberger AG

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two women smiling at camera

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