EP20: Tim Vannieuwenhuyse, WAAK, Empowering the future of your organization: the impact of employer branding.

As Karla Basselier mentions in podcast episode 17: “young people are the future of our industry.” We couldn’t agree more, but we also know that it’s not always easy to encourage them to join our ranks in the textile and fashion sectors. 

In our latest podcast episode, we delve into the topic of employer branding as part of social sustainability. We share a concrete use case of an organization that adapted its recruitment and communication strategies to appeal not only to the next generation of workers but, more importantly, to the RIGHT people. 

Our guest, Tim Vannieuwenhuyse, CEO of WAAKchallenges the notion that the labor market is empty. Instead, he invites us to rethink our approach and redefine our strategies to attract the right talent. With a focus on the social aspect of sustainability and employer branding, Tim shares insights that you can start implementing in your organization today.

Don’t miss out on this thought-provoking episode that reminds us of the importance of cultivating a talented and diverse workforce for a sustainable future. 

Listen to the podcast & be inspired:

Key takeaways:

  • Recruitment has changed in recent years, with recruiters now having to convince applicants to join their company, rather than the other way around.
  • Authentic communication and content creation are important for attracting the right applicants, and companies should focus on creating a clear and honest brand image.
  • Retention is just as important as recruitment, and companies should not underestimate the power of coaching employees.
  • Building a strong network and connecting with other businesses and sectors is important for long-term success and creating big dreams.
  • Great opportunities arise when you combine social entrepreneurship, ecology, and economy.

Meet Tim Vannieuwenhuyse: The Social Entrepreneur leading WAAK to long-term growth.

Join us in getting to know Tim Vannieuwenhuyse, the CEO of WAAK, who has been driving the company’s long-term growth since 2011. Starting out as a Financial Manager in 2006 with a diploma in Commercial Engineering, Tim has since risen to the top, bringing his unique perspective to the table.

Tim defines himself as a social entrepreneur who believes that economic and social goals should be intertwined. At WAAK, he puts his philosophy into action, striving to create initiatives that are both profitable and have a positive impact on society. His dedication to this approach has earned him a place on the jury of JCI West-Vlaanderen and a reputation as a mentor to startups.

WAAK: a “Maatwerkbedrijf” with a mission to empower workers

WAAK, is a sheltered workshop, in Dutch known as a ‘Maatwerkbedrijf’. WAAK’s mission is to provide employment opportunities to individuals who struggle to find work in traditional labor markets. 

Specializing in four key sectors, including:

  • electrical wiring for the HPHC market,
  • metal plant production,
  • packing, co-packing, and re-packing,
  • as well as a range of services such as painting, green maintenance, and cleaning,

WAAK has established itself as a versatile and innovative organization. With an impressive workforce of 2000 employees and a turnover of approximately 55 million euros, WAAK is the largest player in its field in Flanders.

Employer Branding: Building a Positive Culture Inside and Out”

Employer branding is branding you as an employer,

Tim Vannieuwenhuyse

Tim explains that employer branding is all about creating a strong identity as an employer and a culture that fosters positive relationships with employees. While many people state that employer branding is important primarily for attracting applicants and promoting sustainability, Tim adds that the true value lies in creating a positive and energizing work environment for your employees.

Tim’s team is trained to solve problems, to see what’s happening, and what’s going wrong. There is a strong focus on “problems”. To balance this, they also learn to focus on the good things and promote positivity throughout the organization. This is key to creating a network of ambassadors in the organization for the organization. 

Even though WAAK only has a few recruiters in HR and a few account managers in sales, they have over 2000 possible ambassadors in the company, who can help attract new customers, suppliers, and applicants.

The Wow WAAK Strategy: Building a Culture of Pride and Connection.

It was only a few months before COVID happened that Tim and his team started working on this new approach for employer branding. 

Despite initial doubts about launching the strategy during the COVID pandemic, the WAAK team decided to move forward with positivity and commitment. They began by reinventing their mission, vision, and values, with a clear focus on creating strong connections between people and defining a strategy for the future. They also started recording the “faits divers,” or small talks with the employees, to highlight the things that impressed them and to capture what they found attractive and enjoyable.

The result of these initiatives has been the creation of the “Wow WAAK” culture. A culture where people are proud of what they do, proud of their ‘faits divers’, and proud of the vision and strategy of the company. Wow WAAK now really lives in the organization -even as a hashtag- and because when it comes to strategies, it’s important to be serious but also not too serious. So this new culture has been visualized by photographing the employees while saying “Wow!”.

Today, the Wow WAAK culture is everywhere in communications, both internally and externally, and by continuously repeating ‘Wow, wow, wow’, the feeling that what they do at WAAK is Wow really exists. 

A sweet touch to the WOW strategy

A campaign with over 1000 donuts for the employees, that’s WOW. To bring some fun to their new WOW strategy thousands of donuts were handed out to the employees. Employees were delighted to receive these sweet treats as a symbol of the company’s appreciation for their hard work.

To add even more fun to the campaign, Tim and his team used Photoshop to create funny images of people saying “Wow” with a donut in their mouths. This light-hearted approach helped to reinforce the message that working at WAAK is a positive and enjoyable experience.

Interestingly, this donut campaign reminded us of the Doughnut Economy, a concept that promotes sustainable growth and social responsibility in business, as discussed with Jolien Roedolf in episode 12.

In this case, the two are unrelated, however, Tim believes that the two ideas share a common goal: to create a positive impact on society. By incorporating this message into their employer branding, WAAK attracts like-minded individuals who share their values and vision for a better future. It’s about committing to sustainable growth for the organization.

Clear communication: a 3-step approach

WAAK’s employer branding strategy is built on clear communication, both internally and externally. The approach follows three key steps:

  • first, being convinced of the content being shared;
  • second, ensuring everyone in the organization is also convinced;
  • and finally, aligning corporate branding with what people say about it.

To make the strategy effective, WAAK has mixed and played with it in various ways. They switch between internal and external communication, share different types of content (both funny and serious), and use various communication tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Intranet, leaflets, and vehicles with promotional material.

By following a clear red line through each small story, WAAK has created one big story of WOWS in the end.

Don’t sell air: say the real thing. Be authentic.

To Tim, it’s a mistake to say there’s nobody in the labor market. Finding the right people for their company is not about magic or luck.

Despite not having a high number of applicants, WAAK was able to employ 250 new people in 2022, with 200 of them coming from the normal labor market and 50 in various jobs such as IT, sales, and planning.

The key to their success lies in their strategy of creating value through clear and authentic communication that showcases both their business and their community. They prioritize quality over quantity and believe in being transparent and honest about their company.

“Don’t sell air. Don’t make your company more beautiful or more other than it is. So say the real thing, but repeat it, and repeat all the things: social, commercial, economic, financial, human.”

At WAAK they have a specialist who is responsible for creating and sharing content in different formats such as videos, articles, and interviews. While it may be costly, Tim sees it as a valuable investment because it helps spread the word about WAAK and attracts the right applicants.

“In the past, I did it myself and I thought I was good, but now I know I wasn’t.”

Although it’s difficult to measure the direct results of their employer branding strategy, Tim is convinced that it has a positive impact on their ability to attract and retain employees who are a good fit for their company culture.

Attracting and Keeping Talent

Tim emphasizes that attracting people is just one part of the equation, retaining them is equally important. He believes that retention is a critical factor for any company’s success, especially during challenging times. This is where Human Resources plays a crucial role. While some companies may excel at production and sales, they often overlook the importance of HR, such as coaching employees. Tim believes that this approach is inadequate because the human asset is essential to the success of any organization.

Recruitment in the modern era: a shift from convincing recruiters to convincing candidates.

Recruitment has undergone a significant transformation in recent times. Gone are the days when job seekers had to convince recruiters to give them a chance. Instead, it’s now the responsibility of recruiters to convince candidates to join their organization, turning the tables on the traditional approach. As a result, candidates have become more selective and harder to attract than ever before.

However, according to Tim, this shift is a positive one, as it emphasizes the importance of selling and persuasion in every aspect of a business. In the future, success will depend on the ability to effectively combine and sell various factors such as price, quality, and delivery performance with confidence and conviction.

The power of the three Ps 

In discussing his social commitments, Tim emphasizes his pride in WAAK’s accomplishments and his role as an advocate, supporter, and friend of the company.

“I’m a supporter of WAAK, I’m an ambassador, I’m a friend of WAAK. And I can tell that story wherever I go. It’s the best way to have the right positioning of what we are.”

Tim, who is a very active networker and takes on other challenges outside the company, sees this as an opportunity to represent WAAK’s values.

“I do not sell products, I do not sell jobs, I sell the brand WAAK.”

Tim is also passionate about the role of his team as social entrepreneurs in the emerging green economy.

He cites the three Ps of People, Planet, and Prosperity as the core principles driving WAAK’s success. Great opportunities arise where the 3 Ps come together.

Currently, about 22-23% of WAAK’s value is derived from green products like heat pumps, electric vehicles, and digital electric meters. Tim envisions this percentage growing to 50-70% in the coming years, making his dream of a thriving and sustainable business a reality.

For Tim, the three Ps provide a framework for innovation, growth, and social responsibility, and he is excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for WAAK and its partners.

Connecting the ecosystem.

To conclude, Tim has come to realize that the challenges and aspirations of the future are not limited to the business realm, but also involve building connections within the broader ecosystem.

Effective networking across different industries and companies allows individuals to connect with like-minded peers who share the same goals, visions, and dreams.

As Tim explains, networking can lead to the creation of big dreams that can help us overcome challenges and achieve success.

If Tim’s story has inspired you to take your sustainability journey further, you can contact Waak via Ellie.Connect!