"Fostering unity through diversity, and diversity through unity"

For several years now, the public transport sector has faced a skills shortage – and things are only getting worse. Around the world, public transport operators are devising ingenious strategies to overcome difficulties in attracting and retaining staff by paying closer attention to the specific features of the regions where they operate. We spoke to André Rappe, Director of Human Resources, and Katleen Saenen, HRBP in Flanders, both from Keolis Belgium.

Jet Doevendans Persconferentie

 "In Belgium, Keolis operates within a very  particular political and geographic framework. How does this affect your approach?"

ANDRÉ - Belgium is highly specific in that it has three separate administrative regions and three official languages: Brussels-Capital (French-Dutch), Wallonia (French-German) and Flanders (Dutch). To reflect this,  we have a decentralised recruitment process for operational staff, while office-based jobs are managed nationally. 

KATLEEN – However, our approach has changed to overcome the difficulties we’ve been facing for several years in hiring new staff. Today, our national HR department works closely with regional employment agencies and local temping agencies. It also deploys recruiters to support teams in regions where it’s particularly hard to fill vacancies.

"What are the main challenges facing  Keolis Belgium?"

KATLEEN – We hire around 600 new people every year  but have trouble keeping them onboard, especially drivers. We’re up against a combination of issues: the number  of staff retiring is on the rise, people are leaving due  to the difficult working conditions and there’s a high rate of absenteeism. As a result, the staff on our books are overstretched.

ANDRÉ – One of our main challenges is making jobs  more attractive. To this end, we’re currently working  on our employer branding. The goal is to convey a more focused image of what we offer as an employer on the Belgian job market. What’s more, we also need to align compensation structures with the market if we’re to retain staff for longer. Diversity and equal opportunities are other areas where we’re seeking to do better. Following an audit conducted this year, we saw our Gender Equality European and International Standard (GEEIS) label renewed for another two years. Our gender equality, diversity and inclusion performance has improved with our rating going from 2/4 to 3/4, and we’re pursuing our efforts in these areas. 

“Belgium is highly specific, which is why we have both a decentralised and a national recruitment process.”

- André Rappe, Director of Human Resources, Keolis Belgium

André Rappe

"What steps have you taken to improve working conditions?"

ANDRÉ – In July this year, we introduced subsidised meal vouchers for all drivers. Not everyone had been entitled to them before, so it was important to fill this gap. We’ve also changed paid leave. Previously, staff were entitled to 20 days of statutory paid leave a year. We gave them the option of working 39 instead of 38 hours a week in exchange for 26 days annual leave. This was met enthusiastically. Looking ahead, we hope to improve work schedules, along the lines of practices in France using tools like My Keolis Services.

KATLEEN – Thanks to the Keolis Drivers Academy, we’re also able to help drivers who want to become instructors make an interesting career change. As a result, 250 additional drivers have joined our teams since 2019 after passing their bus driver’s licence free of charge. Our intention is to remove the cost barrier to make this kind of career more accessible. We’re also exploring ways to facilitate internal mobility to offer colleagues more career opportunities.

"Are recruitment challenges affecting employees’ sense of belonging? How do you create a workplace culture where people feel engaged and connected to the company?"

KATLEEN – We’ve been working on our employer brand for several years now and on strengthening our social media presence. We’ve run several hiring campaigns aimed at debunking stereotypes about jobs in our sector, especially those facing a skills shortage. Ads have featured, for example, members of our teams sharing their experiences firsthand. This has helped foster a fully-fledged online Keolis community.

ANDRÉ – Given Belgium’s specific features, it’s important to foster a sense of unity — both locally and nationally. That’s why our 31 business units have all retained their original name to underline their local roots. Like with all other subsidiaries, we simply added Keolis to the original name. This might seem like a detail, but it’s actually very important if we want to foster unity through diversity and diversity through unity.

Katleen Saenen

“The Keolis Drivers Academy has enabled us to offer career development opportunities for drivers. Since 2019, we’ve provided free training for 250 people and hired every one of them!"

- Katleen Saenen, HRBP of Keolis in Flanders