Giving language lessons, at work.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023 - VDL, Huuskes, Plukon, Europastry and Pentas; all are companies from Twente that make extensive use of foreign skilled workers. The fact that most of them hardly master Dutch, causes irritations and problems. The solution? Giving language lessons, at work.

Lukasz Leszko puts the raw materials in the mold, presses the button and thus starts the rotational molding machine. This way, the 'ingredients' transform into a plastic air duct. A moment ago, he manufactured tanks for windshield washer fluid. Next to him, Pentas director Marthijn Koorn watches with satisfaction. "Nice, isn't it, this collaboration between robot and human."

At the family business from Almelo, they have been making hollow plastic products for years; it once started with windsurfing boards, later road block plates, bases for picnic tables, and festival urinals were added. Components in demand, but a customer doesn't need tens of thousands of them. "That's our disadvantage," says Koorn. "It involves a lot of manual labor."

Until three years ago, all staff members spoke Dutch, but due to growth and a shortage of young technicians, they had to get 'creative', tells HR manager Thekla Noppers. In other words: Pentas had to bring in people from abroad. Today, about 30, mostly from Poland, work there. And that took some getting used to.

Will they leave after a few months? Do they speak English or German? Do they want to build a life in the Netherlands? Are they willing to learn the language? Noppers didn't always get honest answers to these questions. Things immediately went wrong with a group of Romanians - the HR manager calls it 'messy', after which the selection procedure became stricter.

But the language continued to form a barrier, among colleagues. "We are a family business," says Marthijn Koorn,, "and we want to keep it that way. We want them to be able to say 'good morning' to each other in Dutch. That our Dutch people can also make their jokes, tease each other in their own language. And we don't want people like Lukasz to see us as something temporary."

Pentas is not alone in this, knows Stef van der Velden from the ROC of Twente. It's been 2.5 years since they first got the question if they could have a Dutch teacher give lessons at a company. That turned out to be a success. The word spread and now, according to Van der Velden, there are almost 20 companies in Twente where full, weeks-long language trajectories are ongoing.

At Huuskes, two groups of different levels will start after the holiday, at VDL even three. Plukon from Goor also has that intention, at Europastry in Oldenzaal a trajectory has just been completed. Companies could get a subsidy for this - the national pot was 3.35 million euros in 2023 - but that money was quickly used up. "Most pay it from their own pocket."

Pentas does too. Koorn explains that he sees it as a significant investment in the company's future. They have grown in recent years, from 120 to 150 employees, but that would not have been possible without the labor migrants. "The influx is tight, there is aging, a shortage in the labor market. In Twente, we will have to rely even more on forces from abroad."

The challenge is to integrate the Polish people, and that will happen with trial and error, but the director believes they are on the right track. He mentions participation in a running race from work and attendance at the construction holiday drink as nice examples.

Through language lessons at work, they saw progress, especially among the men who came weekly. The 'good morning' is already quite well incorporated, Lukasz Leszko can do much more than that after 1.5 years. "I think it was good for me," he says about the language class. He invests in himself because he sees his future here. "I bought a house here, my two young children were born here."

This makes HR manager Thekla Noppers smile with satisfaction. She gave Lukasz a permanent contract; there may be more of him. Before he continues with his work, she pats him on the shoulders. "He's becoming a real Dutchman."