At first it was a huge challenge, but now it has become a norm for me and more like an adventure.
This is how Nigerian Chukwudi Ifeanetu Kingsley describes his apprenticeship with Eryk on the installation company’s website.
He is one of the first six West African apprentices who, after a three-year apprenticeship on the company’s special training program, is now one of the newly qualified electricians who will help ensure Eryk the necessary workforce to continue the company’s growth journey. At the same time, he is one of the West Africans who can contribute to raising the level of education in the large country, characterized by a very young population and great poverty.
At least Eryk’s co-owner and managing director Jens-Christian Møller hopes so. In 2017, he started a collaboration with technical schools in Ghana and Nigeria to contribute to the youth being offered a technical education. The director is driven by two objectives for the effort. Partly, he has to get employees for his growing family company. In part, he would like to contribute to the development of Africa.
– As a company, we are actually in the same situation as 25 years ago. At the time, we could not get enough Danish electricians who wanted to be traveling fitters, and we therefore chose to open a branch in Poland and employ Polish electricians. Now there is also a shortage of labor in Poland and large parts of Europe, so we are therefore looking further afield. And here Africa has a lot to offer, he explains.
Eryk Group currently has 242 employees and approximately 25 apprentices. The goal is to reach 50 apprentices and eventually create 200 jobs in Africa following the same recipe Eryk followed in Poland a quarter of a century ago.
– Our niche consists of installing and servicing machines on site around the globe and all year round. Our travel fitters must therefore be interested in traveling a lot and be away from home for 300 days a year. Not many Danes want that – and not many in Poland any more. Among the Africans, on the other hand, it is attractive because it offers some opportunities that they have not had before, Jens-Christian Møller elaborates.
The ambition is also to contribute to progress in West Africa, which in Nigeria and Ghana, for example, is still characterized by great poverty and a lack of opportunities for the young population.
– It is also about Eryk being able to help give young Africans a future in Africa. Otherwise, we will need even higher walls around Europe than we have today, says Jens-Christian Møller.
On 20 October, Eryk, together with the Danish Consulate General in Lagos, will hold a conference on the potential in West Africa. Here, Eryk will share his experiences.
By chance, Jens-Christian Møller opened his eyes to the bigger perspective when he was with a DI delegation and Queen Magrethe in West Africa in 2017. Here he met representatives from technical schools and saw the potential in offering young Africans an education and a job at Eryk.
– On the way home in the plane, I discussed the possibility of creating a West African project together with Consul General Per Christensen from Lagos, where we could get involved in sustainable migration. Soon after, we had the first interviews with young Africans and got the first apprenticeship courses up and running, explains Jens-Christian Møller.
The advantage of West Africa is that they speak English, are almost in the same time zone as us and have a reasonable school system. Eryk’s African apprentices go to technical school in Ghana and Nigeria, while the internship takes place around the world. The apprenticeship test is taken in Poland, as Denmark does not offer the final exam in English.
“It is important to get our new African employees integrated at all levels so that they also become key people. Otherwise it won’t work.”
Jens-Christian Møller, co-owner, Eryk
Jens-Christian Møller does not hide that it is a big task to integrate the African employees in a company with European values and traditions.
Basically, it is about creating mutual trust, where the Africans come with the skepticism of the colonial era towards Europeans and live in societies characterized by corruption and large differences between rich and poor.
Jens-Christian Møller’s first recommendation in such situations is sidekick training, where, for example, he himself shares an office with one of the company’s African managers. And out with the customers, it is important that the apprentices are ready to become mentors who train the African apprentices and involve them widely, so that they also get a network.
– It is important to get our new African employees integrated at all levels, so that they also become key people. Otherwise it won’t work. At the same time, Africans must also understand what is expected in a European workplace. The pay is good, but it also requires that you arrive well-rested every morning and be ready for a concentrated eight-hour working day, he says.
Jens-Christian Møller and his Polish wife Lucja Kalkstein founded Eryk under the name BIC Electric in 2004, based in Denmark and Poland, as a family company. It still is – and it has also been an important piece in the success of employing apprentices from Africa.
– As a family company, it is easier to operate with a longer time horizon, where KPIs do not have to be met every quarter or dividends are sent to shareholders every year. It gives us freedom and an opportunity to implement projects that we may lose money on in the first years, but which benefit us in the long run, he says and continues:
– And here we can see that fewer and fewer Europeans are entering the labor market. Therefore, we have to look further, and here Africa offers some opportunities. It takes five hours to fly to Lagos and a plane ticket costs less than a day’s wages for an electrician, so the potential is huge. At the same time, we have to contribute to Africa’s development, so that they get a higher standard of living and a higher level of education. Eryk would therefore like to be a first mover in that area, and I hope that other Danish companies will also join.
Chukwudi Ifeanetu Kingsley is the first of 6 West African apprentices to complete their training with Eryk. Before the end of 2022, a further 14 apprentices will have completed their training.
DI supports efforts to create good jobs locally in several contexts. Marie Gad, head of global development and sustainability, sees opportunities for other companies to be inspired by Eryk’s work in hiring employees in Africa.
– There is plenty of labor in Africa. Depending on which skills you need, training may be required. But our analyzes indicate that in all areas there is clearly underutilized potential for Danish companies on the African continent, says Marie Gad.
She points out that Africa is the world’s youngest continent with an enormous number of young people who can and want to work.
– Therefore, it makes a big difference when a company like Eryk helps to give the young people professional skills and a good job. Despite the many young people, there is a lack of professionally trained people in Africa, and this is a barrier to the development of companies. There are therefore many good reasons to participate in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Eryk’s conference, says Marie Gad.