Nokia's Bridge program aims to ease pain of job losses

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Nokia's Bridge program, which aims to help Nokia employees who have lost their job as a result of the company's strategy change, has been receiving media attention this week, with articles by both ZDNet and TechCrunch looking at the way it provides seed funding to new start-ups, raising the profile of an initiative, which, until now, has been little commented on.

The Bridge program was set up by Nokia in early 2011 when it became clear that the strategy changes (switching from Symbian/MeeGo to Windows Phone), which were publicly announced in February 2011, would result in major job losses. 

During the time the Bridge program has been active, Nokia has announced around 24,000 job losses: 4,000 in April 2011 as part of the strategy change; 2,300 in 2011 due to the transfer of Symbian activities to Accenture; 3,500 in September 2011 due to the closure of Nokia Cluj factory and the restructuring of the Location and Commerce business; 4,000 in February 2012 due to the closure, or restructuring, of factories in Hungary, Mexico and Finland; and 10,000 in June 2012, due to cost cutting and further factory closures.

In 2011, approximately 4,200 employees participated in the Bridge program, a figure, which given the job losses announced this year, will likely be exceeded in 2012. The program is expected to run until at least the end of this year, and will likely be extended into the first half of 2013.

The program goes significantly beyond what employment laws require in any of the countries in which Nokia operates, but was widely regarded internally as "the right thing to do". Esko Aho, writing in Nokia's 2011 sustainability report, explains the motivations behind the Bridge program:

"We recognized that Nokia’s transformation was going to be a tough call for individuals working for Nokia, for local communities where we were operating, and for the company itself as well. If we are not handling this well, the company itself is going to suffer and our brand will suffer. That’s why we decided that we had to do this in a different way, in a way which creates opportunities as much as possible, and we can mitigate all of the risks related with this transformation."

The program has four main areas: individual re-employment, support and coaching for entrepreneurship, training and university collaboration. The first (re-employment) looks to find another role internally at Nokia (which may involve moving to another office / country) or externally to Nokia. The second (entrepreneurship) aims to encourage employees, either as individuals, or in small groups, to start up new companies, usually in areas that reflect their expertise gained while working for Nokia. The third (training) is broad ranging, with a range of initiatives for different skill levels. The fourth provides opportunities for connections with universities, both in teaching and learning. 

Nokia Bridge

The program is largely run though regional centres, with local Bridge "heads", supported by the Human Resources department in the affected Nokia offices. Bridge centres are running in Finland (Oulu, Tampere, Salo, Helsinki), Denmark (Copenhagen), UK (Farnborough and London), India (Bangalore), Germany, Hungary, Romania (Cluj), Singapore, and USA (one Bridge center for the East Coast in White Plains, one for the West Coast in Sunnyvale). For employees outside these countries, there's a virtual "Bridge Globe" initiative.

As part of the entrepreneurship section of the Nokia Bridge program, the company is providing advice, training and seed funding for newly established companies. It is this element of the Bridge program that has received recent media attention, although it is worth noting this element of Bridge applies only to a relatively small number of employees. However, as noted by TechCrunch last week, each ex-employee can potentially receive up to €25,000 in seed funding for a start-up company:

Each ex-employee gets €25,000 ($30,800) or £20,000 in the UK, and up to four Nokians can come together for a project — meaning your startup could get a seed fund of €100,000. Andrew Cooper, program manager for Bridge in the UK, tells me that it’s more common to have single individuals rather than groups of four, at least in the UK. On top of that, each start-up is eligible for further financing of up to €50,000.

Some of the 300+ companies being supported with seed funding through the Nokia Bridge program include:

  • Jolla - mobile handset development / manufacturer, with software platform based on MeeGo.
  • TreLab - developing Oloni, a next generation wireless measurement solution.
  • Mobile Brain Bank - mobile application project services, including project hosting and business connections.
  • Avanto Network - a professional consultancy firm, with a focus on business development services for companies targeting operators.
  • Cloudberrytec - a professional services firm, with a primary focus on mobility solutions.
  • - app developer, with a "London for Kids app".
  • Suffuse Solutions - media, marketing and social consultancy.
  • Craicshot - providing mobile messaging and mobile marketing solutions.
  • MobiStreets - a mobile web consultancy service.
  • Tellyo - developing an interactive (social) platform to complement TV watching (i.e. a social second screen experience).
  • Absolute validation - field test planning and execution (i.e. testing mobile phone networks and how devices interact with them).
  • Decode Global - a incubator for mobile apps aimed at achieving social change.

Nokia does not take an equity stakes in these companies, but rather regards the seed funding, as with the Bridge Program as a whole, as part of its corporate responsibility to look after ex-employees. It's an attitude that owes a lot to Nokia's "Scandinavian Way" corporate culture, where personal well-being is regarded as a vital for motivation and creativity and where, to an extent, there is an implicit unspoken "contract of trust" between employers and employees. It is possible to overplay this element of Nokia's corporate self, but it is fair to say that there's near universal praise for the Bridge program from the ex-Nokia employees that we have spoken with over the last twelve months.