Interview* with Thomas Wester, Sales Director at STAR and Laurens van Bemmel, Commercial Manager at STAR, which is part of TSG, The Specialist Group.
STAR supplies technical specialists to companies active in industry, energy, infrastructure and life science. STAR currently employs around 2,000 technical specialists in the Netherlands and Western Europe.
STAR “Well-known clients of STAR, such as Tata Steel and Shell, are facing major challenges to become more sustainable. The same applies to Gasunie, which is investing in the hydrogen network.
Companies such as Tennet, Stedin, Alliander and Vattenfall are also working on it; they are investing in electrification and heat networks, among other things,” Thomas Wester explains. “All these companies to which we supply staff are driving forces behind the energy transition. In fact, the issue affects us all. Making large companies more sustainable and renewing energy are necessary for the climate targets. This applies to these companies and also to consumers. Reducing or capturing CO2 emissions is part of that. The realisation of all those investments requires a lot of expertise and of course the right people for the implementation.”
Wide range of specialists
“That is where we come in. We deploy well-trained staff (MBO, HBO and WO level) at various companies that are driving forces behind this energy transition in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and civil engineering,” says Thomas Wester. “In addition, we provide the specialists who support this legally and administratively and take care of safety management, planning and risk management. Some 70% of our people are now actively involved in projects that are, in one way or another, part of the sustainability and energy transition. Think of projects aimed at reducing or capturing CO2, the design and construction of hydrogen plants, expansion of the electricity grid and so on.”
Scarcity and yet…
“Despite the shortage on the labour market and the high demand for technicians, STAR manages to employ many good people. By way of illustration, every week about 60 specialists start a new assignment with our clients.”
Training and other solutions
How do you find staff? “We try to place people who become available from previous assignments on preservation projects,” continues Thomas. “We bring in specialists from abroad when necessary. We also make use of employees who have been working in traditional petrochemical or offshore for years, and offer them a retraining programme if they are open to it. We also train people from all kinds of sectors through our STAR Academy.”
Valuable chain of work
Laurens van Bemmel outlines how a chain of companies works together on a job.
“We are at the table from the start of a project or initiative, thanks to our long-standing customer relationships. The consultation starts with the asset owners, such as BP or Gasunie. In the life sciences sector, companies like Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson are the asset owners.
The contacts present their challenges to us and together we discuss the capacity need for specialists. Then the engineers involved in the design come into the picture, working for companies such as Worley, Royal HaskoningDHV and Antea. After that, or sometimes right at the start, come the contractors who will carry it out. With our specialists, we play a role in this entire value chain. That offers a lot of opportunities for our employees to gain experience, take a look in different kitchens, earn money and contribute to the energy transition.”
There are bound to be a lot of replacement questions. “Yes,” Laurens confirms. “The ageing population and the outflow of retired experts are also a factor, of course, while too few new people are recruited to meet the demand. We are constantly working to overcome this. There are many people active in the technical world, but the trick is to reach and interest them. With traineeships and retraining, we can offer them a working environment where there is a shortage of personnel, so that they can specialise further.”
Looking beyond the CV
What do people have to be able to do? Is there a lot of emphasis on diplomas, certificates and so on? What profiles are required? “Yes,” says Laurens, “that is where our internal team plays a crucial role. Our customers’ HR departments submit the profiles for a certain type of engineer to us, for example. Our consultants go to the heart of the matter: what is really needed, what competences must that specialist possess? Would specialists with the same qualities from other sectors also be employable? We therefore look beyond the CV and, where necessary, offer an alternative. Filling staffing needs is no longer as simple as it used to be, when there were plenty of people available with known, fixed job profiles.
We have contacts with all customers about all possible projects. There are colleges where starters graduate, there are specialised (sub)colleges where people are trained in electrification or hydrogen. All the ingredients for solving the staffing issues in sustainability are there. What is missing is the coordination. We provide that.”
Delivering staff and working compliantly
“With our delivery reliability we are distinctive in this market,” says Laurens van Bemmel, who has been with STAR for almost twelve years. “We are also compliant. The solutions we offer comply with the laws and regulations surrounding the deployment of specialists, so our clients do not run any risks. The organisation and implementation of traineeships is also appreciated, as it offers prospects in the event of a shortage in the longer term.”
Chicken or egg? Recruit staff first or take on that project in the meantime?
“We have clients who dare to take on a project because they know: once I’ve got it, I can put together the project team with the necessary competencies and experience in collaboration with STAR,” continues Laurens. “Whoever has the personnel can take on the project with confidence. But what do you need first? The chicken or the egg? Do you make sure you have all your people, put them on hold and then go get that project? Or do you rely on working with us? Thanks to us, clients take on challenging projects. The customer usually has the core team and the experience in-house. With the additional capacity of our employees, they can bring the assignment to a successful conclusion.”
Putting our shoulders to the wheel of energy transition
“We want to offer customers the certainty of having the best people and to do so in a compliant manner. Conversely, we offer our people the guarantee that they can work for the most beautiful projects and the most beautiful companies,” Thomas concludes. “That is still true in the energy transition. Anyone who wants to work in technology and make a contribution to sustainability can do so in many different ways through us. So feel free to contact us, we would be happy to tell you about the possibilities.”
Interview: Hinke Wever – Flexnieuws.nl