SAP Lures Millennial Coders to Topple Decade-Old Perceptions

Inside SAP AG Headquarters As Largest Maker Of Business-management Software Targets Cloud Push

Employees use white boards as they brainstorm in an office inside the SAP AG headquarters in Walldorf, Germany.

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
  • Software company introducing `early talent' program next week
  • SAP plans to end the year with more than 2,000 such workers

SAP SE traces its history back 43 years, its average worker is about 40 and the business software maker’s 71-year-old founder is still actively involved in decisions. Next week, the company is starting a program to make it a more attractive place for young people to work.

SAP will introduce an "Early Talent" program to lure and retain developers and sales staff either straight from college or with less than two years’ work experience by offering more training, job rotation and a faster track to promotion, said Chief Human Resources Officer Stefan Ries.

“We want to get young people inspired about us,” Ries said in an interview. SAP, which employs more than 74,000 people, has an image of preferring experienced staff that probably “sticks to us from 10-plus years ago. But in recent years it’s changed a lot.”

The company already hired 1,700 such workers and plans to end the year with more than 2,000, up from more than 1,760 last year, and compared with the about 970 it hired in 2013. This year, half of the hires in Walldorf, Germany-based SAP’s product development and research areas will be either new graduates or people who have worked in the industry for just a couple of years.

SAP and other makers of business software such as Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp. and IBM are looking for fresh ideas to stay relevant in a market where many customers prefer using easy-to-procure online software and bite-sized apps over the lumbering systems that populate many workplace desktops.

The focus on young talent comes as SAP is cutting about 2,200 positions, or 3 percent of its workforce this year, the second large reduction since 2014. The company has portrayed the layoffs as an attempt to modernize its workforce and said it will end this year with more employees than it started with.

SAP Chairman and co-founder Hasso Plattner has been a strong proponent of students and young workers joining the technology industry. He created the Hasso Plattner Institute, a computer science university in Potsdam, near Berlin, and endowed Stanford University’s Design School, whose curriculum encompasses software apps.

Competition for the best programmers and software development managers in Germany has heated up. Berlin-based online fashion retailer Zalando SE plans to employ more than 2,000 software engineers by 2017, from about 850 in August, according to Phillip Erler, senior vice-president for technology. The startup hires about 20 percent of its tech workers straight from college, while 60 percent have two to eight years’ experience.

To attract programmers, Zalando is increasing the number of Berlin “meet-ups” where it can explain its mixture of digital merchandising, e-commerce and mobile computing. It’s also expanding in cities including Helsinki to nab workers who’ve left Nokia Oyj and joined other startups, Erler said. Zalando’s Erler isn’t yet worried about talent competition with SAP.

“There’s very little overlap -- that’s another world,” he said. “SAP would probably like for that to be different.”

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