Colleague Jan Moens in Bangladesh

Colleague Jan on his abroad career at Jan De Nul

Vlamingen in de wereld is a foundation that supports Flemish people who (are) working and living abroad. Every quarter, the organisation publishes a magazine in which they give the floor to someone who spends most of their time abroad. This edition, an article was dedicated to our colleague Jan Moens.

Dredger Jan Moens describes his job as the dream of any child. It resembles playing in a huge sand pit, operating windmills, and sailing a boat. But on a much bigger scale and in a high-tech and complex setting. And all that with the most highly educated and trained ship crew, engineers, and managers, supported by well equipped teams with various disciplines. For the Jan De Nul Group, he seems to have what it takes. And so, it’s no coincidence that this engineer is given extremely challenging projects all over the world. At the moment, he’s working on the development of the port in Payra, Bengal.

Article from: Vlamingen in de wereld, number 117, summer 2022. Text: Koen Van Der Schaeghe

Economic booster

Jan is an international man of daring deeds, sculpted by circumstances and experience. ‘I’ve never intended to work in Belgium. As a child, I dreamed of farming, but after a few years in the African agricultural sector, I started dredging.’ He set off and never came back. ‘In the meantime, I’ve worked with the Jan De Nul Group for fifteen years. Our work circumstances are far from standard, but that’s what I like about the work. What we’re creating in Bangladesh, for example, is a sustainable economic booster for the southern region. The country is actually one big river delta. The aim of the port access which we’re building is also to create a better connection to Dhaka, the capital city, which will also benefit trade routes to India and Bhutan. The succession of infrastructure works will enhance the whole country. Initially, we carried out preparatory dredging works on a small scale. Now, we’ve started to construct a 75-kilometre access channel to the port. At the same time, we’re also developing the port itself.’

Personal drive

‘This is what we call a “greenfied project” in the jargon. Starting up new projects out of nothing suits our company perfectly. We arrive with our suitcase and a laptop and within a few months we set up a team and an office, an SME as it were, with a full logistical project organisation. This is why I love this sector: You never come into an existing system, but you have to set up a system. If something doesn’t work, we make it work. Time after time. And that gives satisfaction because everyone contributes to the project. We started on the development of the non-existent port in 2016. Since 2019, we’ve moved up a few gears with the actual start of the dredging works. Ten ships will be operating here at full capacity within a few months. I don’t know any form of drudgery. I call this the trump card and the strength of assignments abroad for the Jan De Nul Group. It’s all one big machine in an organised chaos to get a system up and running at record speed. Personally, I need that drive.’

With sand in the bones

As project manager, Jan is responsible for leading and directing a project to the value of half a million euros. He guarantees the efficient operational implementation of the works, supports the technical teams, keeps the client and the authorities informed of progress, and exchanges information with head office. ‘“It’s best to work all the time” as the saying goes. I can accept that. I enjoy a “hands on” approach and try to combine the administrative, contractual, and management branches with a feeling for operations on the ground. With “sand in the bones”, as they say in our sector. No two projects are ever the same and it’s precisely those varied tools, people, countries, languages, and cultures which give me plenty of desire and energy. I can always unpack a different tool box to start work. That, too, is what’s nice about this job: There’s no regularity whatsoever. The only constant feature is that there’s no constant feature.’

'No two projects are ever the same and it’s precisely those varied tools, people, countries, languages, and cultures which give me plenty of desire and energy. I can always unpack a different tool box to start work. That, too, is what’s nice about this job: There’s no regularity whatsoever. The only constant feature is that there’s no constant feature.’

Jan Moens

Jan Moens

Relational challenge

A stable existence has never appealed to Jan. West Africa has been his home for almost half of his career. The Middle East and Asia followed. ‘Even in the least attractive locations the skill lies in seeing beauty therein. If you don’t do that, you’re only hurting yourself. I’ve never worked anywhere where I wasn’t sad to leave. You always leave a part of yourself behind in which you’ve invested a lot.’ Building a family abroad is another challenge. ‘My two children live with their mum, so I don’t see them regularly. But I do hope that they, too, taste life abroad once they can make their own choices. Together with us, because in Joely I’ve found a partner who likes to travel to the least touristic places in the world in order to spend time as a couple.’

Team spirit

‘Our sector requires a lot of flexibility and commitment. As an employee, you are a strategically important piece on a global chessboard. A career with a company like Jan De Nul Group is a living reality, with several internal opportunities. Sharing knowledge and lifelong learning make it all the more exciting. And usually you don’t stay in one place for very long. The global factor is one of the attractions and the recruiting focuses on this. Newcomers are given assistance and there is plenty of scope for personal initiative.’ 

‘The sites are sometimes so remote that you can only rely on your colleagues, and that means team spirit is essential. How we organise our life outside work depends largely on the place. In comparison with Singapore and Taiwan, for instance, conditions in Bangladesh are quite primitive. There aren’t many opportunities to relax here. I wouldn’t call it a shortcoming, but there are places with more options around you which do make you dream. You shouldn’t minimalise that impact. You need a certain type of personality to put it into context. Yet you grow here, too. For instance, in Bangladesh we take part in sporting activities together as a team, so physical exertion has become relaxation.’

Good supervision

‘Anyone with a blinkered view of life soon meets with reality in this environment. Unique experiences soon pile up to give you a realistic view of the world. And the opportunities speak for themselves. In Belgium, where responsibilities are bound up more with age, working on such mega-projects is hardly possible. It’s as if you’re playing in a different league. In a more rigid European management structure these jobs are designed only for managers with many years of experience. In the Jan De Nul Group you live and work abroad, but you stay connected to a Belgian employer, and the benefits of that shouldn’t be underestimated. Not only can I fall back on a clear flow of communication in Dutch, but the corporate structure in particular makes a big difference. Concerns about personal administrative aspects are largely removed. If I had to work for an employer abroad, items such as social security, pension accumulation, and taxation would take up a much more prominent place in daily life. That means a lot to me,’ Jan concludes.