Not Secondary interviews a series of HR professionals who stand out by working in a distinctive way and who can inspire others. We offer a platform to share ideas and initiatives with other HR professionals and contribute to a healthier working environment. For the interviews with previous industry’s best practices from this series, check the link below and follow our LinkedIn page.
When Not Secondary co-founder Paul Brink and HR Manager Bregje van Walstijn spoke with each other, it soon became clear that the shipping industry in which Bregje of Ace Tankers is active is a very distinguished market. For example, Bregje not only guides all (foreign) onboarding colleges with housing, but she arranges more than just that, for example the schools for their kids.
This interview series focuses on the employment benefits within organizations and will also reveal a part of the company’s culture. We hope you’ll enjoy the read!
Can you briefly tell something about the industry where Ace Tankers operates?
‘Ace tankers is a shipping company that owns tankers and transports chemicals for a large number of customers all over the world. The technical maintenance is not done bij Ace Tankers. The company is often subdivided in the shipping industry, but that is not entirely correct.’
How many employees work for your organization? Can you tell something about the people who work for you?
‘The people on the tankers work as freelancers. The staff who are under contract at Ace Tankers consists of 35 employees in the Netherlands, one in India (But will soon also be working in the Netherlands as soon as he can fly in during the corona crisis), one in Romania and four employees in Hungary.’
What does the employee base look like? Many young people and starters? Or much more experienced people?
‘The average age is 34. Many employees have experience as seaferer, for example they have sailed for six to seven years, and then make the switch to the office. Ace Tankers affectionately sees itself as a group of people who work with their heart and push it to the limit compared to the big competitors who are being more lumbering. The young employees can really fit in and easily connect with this mentality. The workforce also has many different nationalities, which makes it a very diverse team to work with.’
“In addition, Ace Tankers has started recruiting by itself, which is now paying off.”
Can you tell something about the employee turnover within your organization? Do you hire a lot of new people every year?
‘The turnover was very high five years ago. After several adjustments, much has changed. If more than two employees leave employment per year, it’s a lot. The atmosphere that we tried to build in the recent years has mainly been the reason to get to this point. In addition, Ace Tankers has started recruiting by itself, which is now paying off. Now that we go through the entire process ourselves with each applicant, the right candidate is more often found. Some months ago, a vacancy happened to be posted online, to which we received more than 80 responses within 24 hours.’
Which benefits do you see as the most important one within your organization?
‘Helping with the visa of new employees and guidance in the Netherlands. You can think of help with finding housing, but also schools for kids of our colleagues. Since we employ a lot of staff from all over the world, this unburdening is our main focus when it comes to employment benefits. In addition, we have something that you can compare with the salary savings that was usually in the past, we set aside an amount each month that grows with the number of years of service. When someone leaves within two years, this condition expires.’
Which benefits do applicants find important during job interviews?
‘The help we can offer to bring potential employees to the Netherlands always works very well. The Netherlands is a very popular country to work in and if the guidance and connections at a company are good, this will certainly have an advantage over the competitor. In addition, the favorable tax climate in the Netherlands is always something that scores well with applications, this is actually a kind of benefit that we have not influenced ourselves ;). If, as icing on the cake, we also tell potential employees from abroad we pay the monthly health contribution, most candidates are happy with our benefits.’
How do you envisage the future of benefits?
‘In the industry in which Ace Tankers operates, the conditions for the guidance of foreign workers will most likely remain very important in the near future. In addition, many employees have worked at sea before, which can be quite a lonely job. For them it is extremely important to belong to a team and be treated that way. Apart from the benefits, it is therefore very important that we keep the atmosphere topnotch and almost see each other as a kind of family.‘
What are the core values of Ace Tankers? What do you want to achieve with each other?
‘Safety (logically originates from the industry in which we work), treat everyone equally by respecting each other’s culture and background, building trust and a very high level of service. In my working life, this is the company with the highest service level to date. In the field of sales and operations towards customers, but also how HR deals with employees in the work environment. We have an open and modern office with a lot of interaction and space for relaxation. Besides that, Ace Tankers makes every effort to help employees with practical matters. Everyone should have a good time and everything should be arranged down to the last detail.’
What do you see as important trends in attracting and retaining employees?
‘Personal communication. Make people feel that they are an important part of the team and that they can actually tell everything. This is so important in our industry because of the different cultures and nationalities. We think the family feeling and building trust is the most important tool to keep people. We also radiate this during job interviews and we try to monitor it in a fun, pleasant and informal way.’
Paul(NS): Sounds like a strong culture. How do you manage that? Bregje: ‘Everyone is dressed informally, we always indicate this to our applicants, and during the application we make sure that they get a real impression, we also walk with them through the office so that they really experience everything. In the room where the applicant is sitting, he or she can see everyone in the office, because we want the applicant to see what happens and who his or her future colleagues are. We don’t pretend to be something we are not.’
Where does your HR approach stand out?
‘Many people in our industry are used to extreme hierarchy when working on ships. We try to remove this top down approach and level with the team. With us, nobody works downwards from some ivory tower up above or is shouting orders to someone. Regarding recruitment, apart from someone who “knows the ropes”(navy expression, ed.) we are looking for the spark in someone’s eyes, so it can certainly be that if the feeling is mutual we will offer a contract much faster than usual. And we always take initiatives to make our employees feel well acquainted with the Netherlands and our habits.’
Paul(NS): Nice, can you share an example? “During the year we introduce new colleagues to the Netherlands and our language. Everyone gets a personal gift during their birthday, and Dutch for Dummies is actually a must for newcomers. We also sometimes have typical Dutch outings and I tell a lot about Dutch habits.’
“In addition, the favorable tax climate in the Netherlands is always something that scores well with applications, this is actually a kind of benefit that we have not influenced ourselves ;)”
What is the big HR challenge of AceTankers in a nutshell?
‘There is enough run-up in terms of applications, but finding the right person between them remains difficult. Especially because there are a lot of people applying for a job who are not going for the position, but for the opportunity to go to the Netherlands.’
Which employers have been profiling themselves well in terms of working conditions lately? What do you notice?
‘Despite a lot of presence on LinkedIn and Facebook because of recruitment, there is not really a company that stands out for me in terms of profiling in the area of benefits. I can still remember well, when I just started working (in 1994), I was triggered by the way Exact Software dealt with benefits. At that time they offered a little more (lease car, etc.) than the competition.’
Which hurdles do you encounter? What does Ace Tankers need to improve on?
‘How we can bring together the different cultures and associated manners in the working environment. Sometimes it happens that employees unintentionally insult each other due to miscommunication and cultural difference. For example, the Dutch are quite direct and it may not come across well for someone of another nationality. We need to focus even better on this.’
“Everyone gets a personal gift during their birthday, and Dutch for Dummies is actually a must for newcomers.”
In general, what is your advice to fellow HR professionals? Do you have one lesson learned that you want to share?
‘Be yourself and try to connect on a very personal way with the people. Always start the conversation, even if someone is not happy anymore. There is always a solution, don’t think in the standard patterns and make sure you do this with a view to optimising performance and well-being in the workplace.’
And finally: What is your own favorite benefit? Why this one?
‘The benefits that ensure that employees stay with an organization for at least five years. I therefore find the quick wins less interesting. For me, the aforementioned salary savings is such a benefit that expresses genuine confidence in our employees.’