In the renovation of the Waalbrug bridge that connects Nijmegen and Arnhem, the Team Waalbrug combination group of contractors has joined forces with painting company Feijenoord and the social employment agencies of both Dutch cities. Team Waalbrug is a Royal VolkerWessels combination consisting of KWS, Holland Scherm, VolkerRail, Vialis and Gebr. Van Kessel Speciale Technieken & Producten. Smits Neuchâtel Infrastructuur and BKB Infra are partners on the project. The renovation project is extremely labour-intensive and many people are being trained on the project to prevent possible labour shortages. To facilitate this Team Waalbrug has enlisted the help of GEJA, a company specialised in helping people at a disadvantage on the job market find employment.

Down to work

We spoke to Johannes, who fled Eritrea five years ago and now has a Dutch residence permit. “I was able to go to school until I was 10 and then I started to work. I heard about this project from the social employment agency. I had no experience whatsoever in construction but wanted to learn a trade. During the work development programme (WerkOntwikkelTraject) at the Waalbrug project they looked at what I am good at. I got my VCA certification and passed the final exam for the work development programme. Now I’m working on the Waalbrug bridge and we have a really nice team with colleagues from KWS/Holland Scherm and GEJA. The work is really diverse. At the moment we are making temporary provisions so that the hikers taking part in the Nijmeegse Vierdaagse can cross the bridge safely. I really want to get more diplomas, for example to operate a forklift.”

Ton, one of the site superintendents, assigns the work. It was the first time he worked with people who are at a disadvantage on the job market. “It is so good to see these people get the opportunity to get back to work. If they want it, I give them a chance. Oftentimes I have to explain something but they generally pick it up quickly. And if I see that they’re trying their best even when it’s not going well, then I think that they really deserve the opportunity.”

High rate of success

In October 2018 VolkerWessels’ Social Return Counter organised an informative meeting together with Team Waalbrug, Feijenoord, GEJA and the social employment agency Rijk van Nijmegen. The team provided information about the project and the possibility to apply for a job via the on-the-job learning programme. Then GEJA spoke to the people at the meeting, focusing on their motivation and technical affinity. The candidates are often on benefits or are asylum seekers with a residence permit. In early January we launched the first WerkOntwikkelTraject (work development programme). A sawmill was set up at the building site and part of the site hut is used as a classroom. The participants get lessons in engineering (construction and infrastructure), safety and individual development. And they get to work in the work hall where their strengths are identified: welding, electrical work, woodworking, working with concrete, etc. Once they have their VCA certification they get to work on the bridge. An exam follows three months later. Those who pass are offered their first job through GEJA and can work on the bridge full-time. The first WerkOntwikkelTraject was launched with ten participants, seven of whom passed.

Working on a landmark

In practice, getting the VCA certification is not easy. In class the participants understand every last detail of the theory but the exam questions can be quite complex, even for the often highly educated people with a residence permit. This mainly has to do with the way the questions are phrased and not with the subject or question itself. That is why specialised teachers are used who not only deal with the theory but also provide exam training. This boosts the exam success rate to 90%.

The final person to share his thoughts is Ali, who grew up in a little village near the Afghan capital of Kabul. Ali has lived in the Netherlands for the past six years and is the proud owner of a permanent residence permit. In his homeland he worked in automotive engineering. Ali is extremely driven to learn a trade and wants to continue to get more qualifications while on the job. “That’s important, work experience alone isn’t enough for me to have on my CV. I live in Nijmegen, I can bike to work and the bridge is one of the city’s iconic landmarks. I am proud to be able to work on it.” When asked if he wants to keep working here, site superintendent Ton quickly interjects: ”He’s not allowed to go; he’s way too good at his job. I don’t want to lose him!”

If you want to know more about the opportunities that the on-the-job learning and development programmes can provide for your project, contact Annette Pasveer, manager at SocialReturnLoket, apasveer@volkerwessels.com or call her on 06-18978812.