Article from: Vlamingen in de wereld, nr. 121, summer 2023
The pace at which Mieke De Mûelenaere is gaining experiences is high to say the least. She goes where work takes her. As a Flemish engineer, she would never have been able to follow this track in her own country. So she feels right at home in a global dredging company with Flemish roots. Today, Mieke is working in Morocco on the development of a port. Its global focus is one of Jan De Nul Group's attractions. "When considering applications, they look beyond the correct diploma. The right motivation to go abroad and the personality of the candidate are equally decisive. For me, the idea of going abroad had been around for quite some time, since I was 12 years old."
Feeling an itch
Dredgers are a breed apart. Some do it because they like to adapt quickly, while others feel an inner urge to seek other places. "Jan De Nul was not my first employer. I first worked in Belgium for a construction company for one and a half years before going to work in Burundi for the Belgian development agency Enabel. I liked that, but for me the work lacked challenges. Through former fellow students I heard about vacancies at Jan De Nul Group and the rest is history. Recruiting is largely – but not exclusively – focussing on the international aspect. Meanwhile, I have been working for the group for eight years now. In that time, I have worked on many sites in various countries and at very diverse destinations: from the Baltic States over Monaco to Jamaica and Mauritania. Some colleagues prefer longer-term projects, but for me it soon starts itching. It's like I need it, always a new challenge, a new country, a new job. And on that front, of course, I can't imagine a better employer." At Jan De Nul, they have jobs to everyone's taste, people all have their own aspirations in that area. Longer or shorter projects, more or less technical, at home and abroad.
"I am very inquisitive by nature. I explicitly ask for those shorter projects. The extremes also appeal to me. A project in Monaco is completely different from one in Nigeria. Today, we are building a whole new seaport in the Moroccan city of Nador. I am working here for the second time, because dredging is done in phases. As works manager, I work closely together with the project manager, taking on the operational part. Today, I am supervising an operational team, which is also active on the vessels themselves. The satisfaction I get from it is great. You really contribute to a bigger picture. So far, the economy here has been mainly focused on agriculture and fisheries. But new opportunities are emerging and Nador breathes (development) opportunities. Even before the port is active, you can see how the wider environment is already responding to it."
"Some colleagues prefer longer-term projects, but for me it soon starts itching. It's like I need it, always a new challenge, a new country, a new job. And on that front, of course, I can't imagine a better employer."
Mieke De Mûelenaere
Clearing a navigation channel, excavating a sea channel, reconstructing a beach, reclaiming land from the sea... the projects are varied and, like her colleagues, Mieke is very mobile. Sometimes she knows long in advance what her destination will be, other times it's last minute. "Especially if no visa must be applied for, things can go very quickly. That Nigeria was going to be my next destination, I knew about a week in advance as that’s the time it takes for applying for a visa. Once that was done, I took off. That planning is always quite a puzzle." Her job offers Mieke opportunities she didn't think possible before: "My view of the world has also widened a lot. Every country has a different dynamic and reality. And it is definitely not bright and rosy everywhere. But I do feel privileged to be able to experience everyday life in various countries. Looking beyond stereotypes at the versatility of Africa, for instance, appeals to me."
A man's world
They are growing in numbers, but women remain a minority in her working environment. "There is no denying that the dredging sector is predominantly a man's world. The nature of the job does not promote an influx of female colleagues, although the company does encourage it. In the offshore department (department with activities in the energy sector, mainly renewable energy), the number of female colleagues is higher, but this work has the reputation of being tough. Certainly the newly recruited women are choosing for the offshore division, although I can certainly recommend dredging. For me, it is nothing short of a microbe. Dredging is a team sport, which is why the collegial atmosphere is very important. Team spirit is crucial. The sites are sometimes so remote that you can't rely on anyone but your colleagues." The work regime of a dredger can be called unique, to say the least, Mieke chuckles: "Life is led at the pace of work. The periods on site are also quite intense. For two months, I work six days out of seven and 12 hours a day, followed by a month's holiday, during which we do completely de-connect."
“Dredgers go where a project needs them at that time. That willingness to be internationally mobile is one of the crucial factors to be able to keep up with the job. The company asks a lot, but the conditions as well as support from management are very good. Also the training that we get is stimulating. Working for a Belgian company, previously Enabel and now Jan De Nul, is also very important for me. You work according to local customs, but in a Belgian context and under Belgian working conditions, wherever you are stationed. After all, I get great support and there is also a safety net, should I ever want to work in Belgium”, Mieke concludes.