iPS Powerful People is a leader in personnel services for the maritime industry worldwide, with secondment and temporary work. The company focuses on three branches: maritime, civil engineering and offshore energy with the realization and maintenance of wind farms at sea. There are strong growth opportunities in the latter branch in particular, says director-owner Patrick Mans. The ambitions are high, iPS aims to double the company size within five years. Autonomous, so completely under its own power.
by: Han Verbeem
Mans has been working at iPS since 2011, and together with co-director Rob Kooijmans he took over the shares of one of the two founders a few years ago. iPS was founded in Leiden in 1988 as a personnel supplier for the dredging industry and the head office is now located in Capelle aan den IJssel, with a Dutch branch in The Hague/Scheveningen. Operating in 35 countries across virtually all continents, iPS has evolved tremendously over the past eight years. The major opportunities lie in the energy transition and construction of offshore wind farms. The generation of sustainable energy is topical and is being accelerated, among other things, by the geopolitical threats in Ukraine – emphasizes Mans. Sustainability is already an assignment from the climate agreements, but the demand for alternative energy is increasing with the ban on Russian fossil fuels. Large-scale wind farms have been installed in the Netherlands and off the German coast for many years. But the first projects are also getting underway elsewhere in Europe, such as in France. “The offshore wind market is moving fast,” notes the director.
Wind energy is also the Egg of Columbus for other countries in the current energy scarcity. “At the moment there are a lot of tenders in America. There, too, they will be fully committed to offshore wind. Partly for this reason, iPS opened a branch on the East Coast in Boston at the beginning of this year, as a second one next to the existing office in Houston. “We do this together with a local partner,” notes the director.
Mexico, the Baltic States, the Middle East and Asia are also building new wind farms off the coast. iPS is present in all these countries and contracts qualified personnel on site for clients in the offshore. “We think ahead with our customers,” explains Mans. “As soon as we know that construction is going to take place, we immediately start recruiting and training employees in the country concerned. If the customers then take off, we will be able to serve them in the same way as here in Europe.”
The Netherlands leading the way
The Netherlands has been known for centuries as a maritime nation and as a land of windmills. “That tradition has given our country a strong international position,” emphasizes the director of iPS. Even though the very first wind turbines have little to do with today’s wind turbines, because they are getting bigger and more powerful. The necessary knowledge and expertise for the construction of offshore parks is largely in Dutch hands. “Even when it comes to placing the turbines at sea, there are currently no American-flagged ships that can carry out that work. This all goes through the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe,” says Mans.
Shortage in the labour market
The labour market is tight. That requires investing in people, emphasizes Patrick Mans. For the 1,200 to 1,400 employees, iPS offers a high degree of job security. “The temporary employment market is flexible, but we can continuously supply people to all the major players. When a project ends, there is again a demand for work elsewhere, and with that we can offer our temporary workers a ‘permanent’ job. That way you can bind people,” he explains. When recruiting qualified personnel, iPS is not just limited to the Netherlands, because “the pond is limited here”, says Mans. “We have also had our own recruiters in the Baltic States for 8 years now.” Local legislation often obliges clients to make use of employees from the relevant country.
Russia on hold
The current tensions in Ukraine are putting current projects in Russia, including on the Caspian coast, on hold. In Ukraine itself, iPS is active for clients at Odessa on the western part of the Black Sea. Among the refugees now coming to Western Europe are Ukrainian people eager to work. “Certainly now that a work permit is no longer required for this group in many European countries, this offers opportunities,” says Mans. “But they do need further education and professional training.” This applies to more temporary workers with maritime experience. “Not everyone has the necessary papers for wind energy.”
The war in Ukraine is fuelling growth. “Certainly because energy companies and governments are putting forward planned investments for wind farms to get rid of Russian gas,” emphasizes Mans. “That puts us under extra pressure right now.” It was different during the corona pandemic, certainly in the first weeks of the global outbreak at the beginning of 2020. “You are suddenly confronted with it. That was exciting for a while”, the director looks back on this hectic period. “There was a panic reaction in the market. In concrete terms, this meant that all vacancies were frozen. Everyone who was working had to stay where he or she was. There was no more travel, there were no crew changes on the ships.”
After four to six weeks, the panic reaction subsided and clients in the offshore industry started to “think in solutions, and especially creative solutions.” The rules varied by region and country, and they were constantly changing. This resulted in complex work schedules with work changes. “People flying to Taiwan for a two-week job had to quarantine for two weeks in a government hotel. And on return to Europe, another two weeks of isolation followed. Then you lost a total of a month and a half, but the work did go on in the end.” Not only dealing with and avoiding corona infections was and still is a challenge, but also vaccinating employees. “That is sensitive and although the number of vaccinated people is increasing, we also have to take conscientious objections into account.”
Impossible made possible
Corona seems to be on the decline worldwide, but the virus is not gone yet. “Covid can just pop up again, in a different variant. We don’t know what could happen again next winter. But due to the pandemic of recent years, we have carried out risk analyses and are better prepared.” It is precisely this strength and especially resilience that has ensured that the maritime sector has been able to recover quickly. “Ships have to sail, larger ports are needed precisely to continue the economy and energy transition. Together we have made the impossible possible in times of corona.”