He explains that, as a large company, we have no other choice. "We have to embrace society and give everyone a chance. At Ballast Nedam, we’ve been doing this for a long time. Twenty years ago, I already had Social Return employees, even though it was called something else back then. I used to put guys who had come from the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) to work on all sorts of jobs on the building site. Some of them have come a long way, received training, got a permanent job and are still employed. That’s great. The higher purpose is to help people, but if they can add value to the company as well, then it’s a win-win situation."
A professional and a people person
Piet has worked for Ballast Nedam since 1977, starting out as a site manager and then, for the past 25 years, as an HR adviser and personnel coordinator at Ballast Nedam Zuid and subsidiary Laudy Bouw & Ontwikkeling. "As an HR advisor with experience on the building site, I have a good understanding of what foremen and construction workers need. That makes communicating with colleagues and students a lot easier."
Piet's experience in construction also helps in his work with Social Return employees. "I not only guide them in the organisation, but also provide them with a bit of construction knowledge. We give the employees all the time they need and try not only to pass on knowledge, but also to help them in their development. It’s about growing as a craftsman and growing as a human being. I have always enjoyed contributing to this, and it’s been part of my daily work for many years."
Right attitude and motivation
If a Social Return employee wants to work for Ballast Nedam for the long term, a good attitude and motivation are indispensable. So if Piet notices that someone doesn't like the work, he will ask that person to leave. "There are employees who leave the building site after just two days. But if someone is motivated and eager to learn, we continue working together." Piet looks at what someone can do and focuses on that. "Then we train them so I can eventually deploy them as a permanent employee. And that makes me happy."
For example, Piet once saw an 18-year-old boy sweeping the floor at a project. "He was sweeping the floor, purely because the municipality told him to. I saw him helping the carpenters from time to time and asked him if he wouldn't rather being doing that. He was taken aback but very enthusiastic. So I put him in touch with our construction people. He started training as a carpenter and is now doing level 3."
Ballast Nedam works with Ampliar, a secondment firm that employs people with a distance to the labour market. According to Piet, the first week is decisive for the rest of the project, and that depends on the right guidance. ‘This company understands this very well. If one of the new Social Return employees calls in sick, we drive over to cheer him or her up.’ The support on the construction site is also crucial for the rest of the project. ‘It’s important that someone from Social Return has a point of contact on the site, and that there are colleagues who welcome the new employee.’
"We have people over the age of 60 who still work as cleaners and enjoy doing so until they retire. We also recently got two ex-convicts working for us. They’re doing a fantastic job. Another Social Return employee came as a refugee from Eritrea with his disabled wife. He started as an apprentice with the bricklayers and is highly motivated. He has already passed BBL1 and is now doing BBL2. His Dutch isn’t great yet, because the classes have been postponed due to the pandemic. But he’s a fantastic guy and doing well. We intend to offer him a permanent contract so he can get on with his life."