Fons has 40 years of experience on the counter while Ward just started a few months ago. They did not know each other before this conversation and first introduced themselves. In addition to the difference in career length, a difference in character became immediately apparent: the spontaneous, talkative Fons and the quiet, thoughtful Ward. In terms of their willingness to listen, however, they are very much the same.
Ward: "I am 21 and have a bachelor's degree in electromechanics. I did my internship at Evonik Antwerp, which was a very positive experience, but unfortunately, there was no position available afterward. I worked for a small company for a while but kept looking for a position at Evonik. I was asked back for a holiday job last summer, then applied for a job in another field and since January I have been working permanently as a mechanic in the central workshop."
Fons is a qualified pastry chef, but due to an allergy to flour dust, he could no longer do that job. He then went to many companies on the Scheldelaan, initially without success. Fons: "At the suggestion of someone who worked here, I tried several more times. Four applications and a lot of perseverance later, I was allowed to go and talk to someone in the factory. He asked me about my technical knowledge and interests and I could tell that I was frequently working on my motorbike. As a hobby, I was a wrestler and the Degussa employee at the time turned out to be a boxer. The match was made. (laughs) My first job was at the FCP-A installation, where I became a deputy team leader. After that, I applied for a job at the newly started ACA plant. As this was fully computer-controlled, I went to evening school to study computer science. From the ACA plant, I later moved to the IT department and then ended up as an SAP specialist in the logistics department. I am now 65 and entering my final months at Evonik Antwerp."
Diversity is diverse
Fons: "When I was growing up in Kapellen, the children of our Congolese opposite neighbours were my playmates. My hobby was and is wrestling. As a youngster, I was a Belgian champion for eight years and I wrestled internationally for five years. I still train three times a week at club Borz in Antwerp. That is a melting pot of all 'Antwerpenaars', where nationality, origin, colour, male or female, religion, ... play absolutely no role. Everyone is welcome and we train together with respect and understanding for each other, convinced that we are all equal. Diversity has therefore always been a norm for me. We are all people, all different. And difficult people are everywhere, their origins or other differences don't matter.”
Ward: "When you think of diversity, you easily think of coloured people. In primary school, there was an adopted boy from Haiti. As a little boy, I didn't think anything of it, he was a classmate like everyone else. In secondary school, there were occasional struggles and I saw misunderstandings and prejudice toward Muslim youth. I remember well the teacher who thought it was important to broaden our views and encouraged us to think for ourselves. I see in myself that I too - like everyone - sometimes have prejudices. However, when I meet people - which as a silent person I don't do lightly - very often the prejudices turn out to be wrong. We are all human beings and we face the same problems in life. You realise that when you start a conversation with people.”
Fons: "Talking is always best. That is of course easy for an extrovert chatterbox like me to say, but it is true. In the club, for example, every now and then a wrestler isolated himself to pray. I don't condemn that, but I asked to do it before or after the warm-up because that is very important for wrestling. In doing so, I respect their faith, and the people in question accepted my proposal. It can be that easy."
Ward: "You quickly notice who is open to other opinions or not. If there is no willingness to listen, I don't try. Then they can think as they wish. That's not necessarily wrong, just different from me. In my circle of friends, for example, we know from each other what we don't agree on. Then we don't have to talk about it anymore. I think that should be allowed. You don't have to push your own opinion, because everyone thinks that theirs is the right one.”
The strength of Evonik Antwerp
Both men work in mixed teams with young and more experienced employees, what do Fons and Ward think about this? Young and ambitious, old and written off?
Fons: "I can look back a bit further than you can, Ward. Take it from me, you're in a good place. After more than 40 years of service, I can still say with conviction that I love working here. I don't feel old or written off, and I'm still learning every day. I leave the new things to my successor, but they can still ask me anything else.”
"I think the strength of Evonik Antwerp is that the company gives its people opportunities. People are allowed to evolve here until they end up in a job that they feel really good in. In all my years of working here, I have seen many good leaders who believe in the potential of their people."
Ward: "I can only confirm that in my short career here. During my internship it turned out that there was no position available for me at first. My manager then encouraged me to take a look at EMC to see if it could be something for me. I came straight from school, with only internship experience, and yet there were people willing to invest in me. Less experience also means that certain jobs are not for me yet. I don't experience those decisions as unjust, because I do get the opportunity to walk along and take a look. Everyone started from scratch and most people here have apparently not forgotten that. I find that very nice."
Fons: "Young guys like you bring different insights and techniques, and that is worth its weight in gold. As an experienced and seasoned employee, don't assume that you are infallible, because there is a lot of knowledge that you don't have. I don't have to know everything either, but I find out who I can ask, whether it's someone of 18 or 75. I keep saying it: talk to each other, also to that colleague who doesn't work in your department or to that young employee who just started."
Ward: "I notice that young people like me also communicate about safety differently or more than older employees. At school it's a fixed item that is given a lot of importance. As a newcomer, it's sometimes quite a challenge to suggest something or ask questions, when you're among colleagues with a lot of experience. You wonder if they won't think you're stupid or a know-it-all. In the meantime, I have learned to say or ask what I want, because I notice that it is much appreciated. I see the same insecurity in the new trainee and I hope that I can take it away from him now and again by encouraging him.”
Fons: "There are no stupid questions. You ask questions because you want to know something or because you have doubts about something. That is possible here, you can be sure of that. You will blossom out here.”
Ward: "I see that too. There is an open communication and an active exchange between colleagues. That makes learning and gaining experience here feel very safe.”
Fons: "If there is something going on, it has to be put on the table. That's easier than 40 years ago. You can now just walk in to a manager, even the CEO of the Antwerp site is very easy to talk to. Low-threshold and open communication is very important, as is a good mix of different talents. Add to those managers who have the necessary know-how - not necessarily the oldest employees, as often happened in the past - and who can manage people well, and you have a very good employer. Then everyone feels like they are making a contribution."
Fons: "I think that even more attention should be paid to the equality of men and women. It's time for the narrow-mindedness to disappear.”
Ward: "It should not be necessary to strive for diversity in numbers. Positive discrimination also means missing out on people with the right skills. The ideal scenario would be that we no longer need to talk about diversity and inclusion and that it is perfectly normal for everyone to have equal opportunities.”