Guaranteeing CERN’s excellence: consolidate experience

For its missions CERN requires staff with solid experience in all its domains of activity

The Organization has several missions: fundamental research, technical developments and innovation, training the several hundreds of associates, fellows and students, while at the same time taking care of more than 10000 users. In order to guarantee excellence in all of these areas, CERN has to put in place an efficient personnel policy. Such a policy must allow the Organization to recruit collaborators with the highest competence from all Member States, and to keep and motivate them during their entire professional career. But, more importantly, the Organization has to be able to count on a stable workforce. It needs staff with experience gained over a long period in the fields of accelerators, detectors, and operating procedures, if it is to fulfil successfully its important mission of training and knowledge transfer, which is very much appreciated by our Member states, since it highlights a visible return on investment.

CERN and its attractiveness: the Organization must face its responsibilities

In recent years, the Organization has seen a continuous rise in the number of users, students, fellows, and associate personnel (see Fig. 1). At the same time, the total number of staff has remained constant, about 2510, and the number of staff with an indefinite contract (IC) has even gone down, to stabilize around 1750 since 2012.

Fig. 1: Relative evolution of the various CERN populations


The fact that the number of all of these categories of associated members personnel and fellows has practically doubled, or more, in a single decade, proves the enormous success and attractiveness of CERN as an international scientific organization. However, the ever-decreasing number of staff with an IC contract poses a real problem. Indeed, since the ratio of IC staff to other types of members of the personnel has gone down drastically over the period considered, the workload of the IC’s has today reached a critical point. They find it more and more difficult to provide a high quality service to the ever-increasing numbers of users; to organize and supervise the work of the various populations on site; and to train newly hired staff on a limited duration (LD) contract, students, and fellows. Moreover, at the same time, the IC staff must guarantee the safety required to ensure that the accelerator complex and the detector infrastructure can be kept in an excellent state.

Demography and external constraints: squaring the circle

In 2009, CERN Council decided to stabilize staff numbers in the Organization at 2250 full-time “active” staff (FTA). Later, in 2011, the Management applied the flexibility provided in the framework of its activity and project-oriented planning to transfer 5% from the Materials to the Personnel budget during the period 2011–2015. This allowed for the additional recruitment of 113 FTA, essential to handle all activities associated with the first long shutdown of the accelerators and experiments (LS1) and the restarting of the LHC in 2015 at an increased energy of 13 TeV. However, in Finance Committee of June 2012, the Management had to make the commitment not to raise the number of IC staff beyond 1750, its level at the time. This means that CERN can only open new IC posts as a replacement of IC staff who leave the Organization.

Figure 2 shows for the period 2001–2013, the number of newly recruited Staff (blue line) and the number of Staff who left the Organization (red for LD contracts and green for IC contracts). The recruitment peak at 2004–2005 is due to the internalisation exercise (ex-local staff), and the peak at 2011–2012 corresponds to the 5% flexibility for LS1, mentioned above.

Fig. 2: Arrivals and departures of staff members


Figure 3 shows changes concerning staff with an IC contract during the period 2001—2013. The number of IC’s who left CERN (retired, resigned, deceased) is shown in blue, whereas the number of new IC’s is shown in red. We observe that the number of new IC’s is rather low (between forty and eighty) until 2008, and then reached a maximum during the years 2009–2011, corresponding to the cohort of ex-local staff, who were recruited in 2004 and 2005. On the other hand, we can see a strong decrease as from 2012, which is due to the low number of IC staff who leave.

Fig. 3: IC staff: departures and new contracts


Figure 4 shows the current age distribution for staff more than 50 years old. In this distribution we observe that in the coming five years only about 30 staff per year will reach the legal retirement age of 65 years. This number rises to 50 in the following five years, the situation improving somewhat after that.

Fig. 4: Age distribution of staff (situation mid-2014)


The current contract policy specifies a maximum duration of five years for an LD contract. Thus, it is clear that with the limitation of 1750 IC, only a fraction of the current LD contracts can be converted into IC contracts. To smooth large year-to-year variations in the LD to IC conversion rate, Management decided at the end of 2012 to plan for a total of 198 IC posts to be opened during the period 2013–2015 (until the end of the mandate of the current Director-General). This corresponds to an average conversion rate of 40% for the indicated period, with variations according to the type of activity (e.g., 30% for the research sector, 50% for the accelerator sector). Of course, this variation poses the problem of fair treatment between staff working in different parts of the Organization.

A probability of only about 40% for obtaining an IC contract after five years, is certainly not very advantageous for the attractiveness of the Organization, especially for candidates coming from far away, such as the northern European countries, a population which is already under-represented at CERN. In the absence of new measures, this conversion rate will have to decrease even further, down to about 25%, thus arousing even less enthusiasm in these countries for taking the big step to move to CERN. Extending the maximum duration of an LD contract from five to seven or eight years, will not drastically make CERN more attractive. Indeed, this change will only increase the uncertainty for the staff on an LD contract, who by the time they are offered an IC contract will on average be more than 40 years old, quite a long time before knowing whether they can look forward to some long-term stability for themselves and their families.

An ambitious personnel policy with a vision firmly anchored in the future

The personnel policy of the Organization has to be in harmony with the missions that the Member States have entrusted to CERN. In this context, the European Strategy for High Energy Physics, as defined by Council in May 2013 in Brussels, plays a central role. When Management committed to the ceiling of 1750 IC staff until 2015 it was explicitly stated that the personnel resources after that date would have to be redefined in function of the future scientific programme of the Organization. For the Staff Association it is clear that CERN can only successfully fulfil all its missions in the future when it can count on the dedication of a stable and experienced staff. To sustain CERN’s excellence and guarantee its success, staff must have had the possibility to work for a prolonged period (at least 10 years) in motivated and solid teams where they can acquire the competence and experience needed.

In the framework of the activity- and project-oriented planning paradigm, approved by the Council a few years ago, the Staff Association considers that the Council should abstain from wanting to micro-manage CERN. The Council should limit itself to approving, each year, the global implementation of the European strategy as reflected in the budget proposal for the following year, as well as in the medium-term plan. Within the limits of the global budget, approved by the Council and respecting the CERN Staff Rules and Regulations, the Management must have the possibility to freely define the elements of its personnel policy, including the number of staff, the different types of contract, the rules governing advancement and promotion, etc.

Taking a global approach

For the planning of staff numbers, and in particular its stable component of IC contracts, we recommend favouring a global vision based on the demography for the coming fifteen years. Figure 5 shows the age distribution of staff, detailing the LD and IC contracts.

Fig. 5: Age distribution of staff (situation at the end of 2013)


Compared to the situation of staff more than 50 years old (Fig. 4) we notice that the age distribution varies a lot less for staff under 50 years old thus allowing for a more manageable and stable LD → IC conversion rate resulting in a more readable contract policy in a few years’ time. Looking at the next age bracket of 50–55 (see also Fig. 4) we find about 65 staff per year. More generally, by taking an average over the next 15 years (age group 50–65), one could award about fifty IC’s per year, compared to about 100 staff recruited. This global approach would avoid having to deal with fluctuations and threshold effects due to an over-constrained system, where staff demographic effects and past decisions of Council collide, thus needing urgent ad hoc corrections. Thus, CERN could benefit from a more stable and predictable conversion rate LD → IC of about 50%, which, although still a bit low to be really attractive, is better than the 25% possible with the current contract policy.

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by Staff Association