From initiative to opportunity
1975: this was the year that Jan Brand, a Dutch graduate engineer, placed his first fellow engineer in a temporary position. With this first step, Brand distinguished himself as a pioneer in the development of the temporary employment sector. Over the years this would become an international industry and an indispensable stabilizing factor in local and international labour markets. This first placement, made when the company was operating under the name Multec, also marks the beginning of Brunel's colourful history. Typical of these early years was the emphasis on placing highly qualified, technical specialists. Even now, 35 years later, Brunel is still known for this focus. The first office was established in Delft, the same city where Jan Brand attended university and a city that attracts many engineers.
In 1987, Brunel founded its first foreign office, in Belgium. The current headquarters of Brunel Belgium are in Mechelen, where we met Sandra Schuerewegen, who has been appointed as the new managing director in January: 'Eleven years ago, I started in a human resources position at Brunel. But I was an international sales manager in my previous job, and soon the commercial activities of Brunel drew my attention. Luckily, Brunel gave me the opportunity to grow into a position as sales manager.' In 2006 a promotion to general manager ICT followed, and then to managing director this year.
Brunel has an international network of 90 branch offices in 32 countries and is specialised in flexible placement of professionals in the fields of Engineering, IT, Legal, Finance, Insurance & Banking and Energy. The requirements in these fields differ wildly. For example, the Energy field is a continuous business with world-wide projects that are planned three years in advance, while the other fields have more local and short-term projects. For Brunel Belgium, 80 percent of the clients are big construction and engineering companies, multinationals, banks, insurance companies and the government. For cross-boundary projects such as in the Engineering field, the account managers and commercial managers of Brunel Belgium collaborate with their colleagues in other branch offices.
From initiative to opportunity
'Growth opportunities' is a term that Sandra uses a lot in our conversation, not only with respect to Brunel's employees, but also when she is talking about the professionals Brunel is placing at other companies. 'It's not a hollow term for us. Everyone who has a sense of initiative gets the opportunity to do something with it. For example, if an IT professional wants to follow a training course with a specific purpose in mind, we'll give him the chance to do this. Especially in the Engineering field there are a lot of people working on short-term projects, so Brunel is determined to search for challenging jobs and give these professionals the right opportunities to develop and boost their career.'
Sandra emphasises that the same spirit exists internally: 'Our CEO Jan Arie van Barneveld encourages all our employees to develop themselves, and he is very approachable. A "Bruneller" is someone who takes initiative and never forgets that he or she is working with people. To give an example, Brunel's Pharma division started this way 2.5 years ago: we knew someone in the healthcare business who approached us with a sensible business model. So one person had an idea that we examined, and we gave her the opportunity to start this new division.'
People, people and people
'When we interview a professional at Brunel for the first time, we try to find the person's profile and potential by tests and questionnaires,' Sandra says. 'Our psychologist tests and analyses the personal characteristics, and we also look at the person's technical capabilities. After that, we give him our advice and a human resources manager discusses what the person wants and how he can attain that.' But Brunel's work doesn't stop after the professional is placed in a company: 'We follow everyone closely, and if his job is not what he expected, we try to adjust, for example by giving him some extra training. Just dropping someone at a place he is not happy with is never good, not for the consultant, not for the client and therefore not for Brunel.'
Brunel's people-centric approach also shows at times when things go downhill, such as in the current economic crisis. 'At this moment the situation is already better than last year, but still not as good as we would like. So when the project of one of the IT professionals we placed ends and he or she doesn't find a new project immediately, we try to find a relevant internal project at Brunel. For example, we give him the opportunity to follow a .NET or Java course and let him gain relevant experience by working on our internal IT projects.'
For Brunel's account managers it is not enough to just send some CVs in response to job adverts from companies. They have to go 'in the field' and try to sense the corporate culture and what is important for the company. Sandra gives an example: 'If a bank searches for a construction supervisor, someone that is perfectly proficient in construction engineering is not always the best match for the job, even if he has the perfect technical knowledge. For instance, if he has always worked in industrial environments, he can have some difficulties with the corporate culture of a bank. Our account managers have to understand these cultural differences and try to find a good match.'
So Brunel's employees do much more than just 'selling people'. As Sandra explains it: 'Our commercial managers spend a lot of their time on following the professionals they placed. Moreover, our sales people are also partially human resources people. At Brunel, no one works without interest in people. If we interview new staff candidates, we want to be sure that they are genuinely interested in people. Only interest in the business side is not enough.'
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