For over 20 years, Pipelife Netherlands has been participating in a very special social integration project, aiming to break down employment barriers for people with disabilities. As part of the project, a team of 13 people with various disabilities works at Pipelife’s production department in Enkhuizen, benefiting from greater economic self-sufficiency and an opportunity to use and develop their skills. We talked with the team and their supervisor Joanna Mrugala about creating a work environment accessible to everyone.
While 7 a.m. might feel early for some people, the production department at Pipelife Netherlands plant in Enkhuizen is already humming with life. Some of the work in the plant’s assembly unit has been automated, but there are still tasks that require human assistance and cannot be trusted to machines.
Roughly two decades ago, Pipelife Netherlands saw an opportunity to adapt these roles for people with disabilities, and several of the team members have been working here from nearly the beginning of the project.
“I have worked here already for 23 years,” says Piet, “and I still think my work is grandiose.”
His colleague John echoes the sentiment: “I’ve been here for 19 years, and I feel like a fish in the water. No matter who you are and what you do, you are treated with respect here.”
The job placement project is a result of a collaboration between Pipelife and the governmental organization Werksaam Westfriesland. As part of the program, 13 people with various disabilities work full-time or nearly full-time at the manufacturing plant in Enkhuizen.
“The team is very diverse; we have people in their thirties to mid-sixties and with very different disabilities,” explains Joanna Mrugala, a shift leader at Pipelife Netherlands and the team’s supervisor. “We try to find the right tasks for everyone, considering each member’s individual needs. It requires careful planning, but we also receive a lot in return as these people are very committed to their tasks.”
While according to the conditions of the placement program, the team’s employment contracts are with WerkSaam, the group has become an integral part of Pipelife’s production department’s life — participating in the company parties and outings and receiving the same perks as other teams.
Remco, a member of the project, shares: “I’m proud to be part of this company, as my family members, neighbors and friends also work here. No distinction is made, and we all are involved in everything.”
The team works from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Their work is an important contribution to the busy assembly department and, sometimes, even exceeds the performance of other shifts.
“There are people who don’t like tasks they find straightforward or repetitive, or they don’t like coming to morning shifts — and this team is completely different,” says Joanna. “Many of them appreciate having regular schedules and tasks with unchanging, clearly-defined goals. Some even arrive well before their shift because they like being here. And many get really carried away with their work and strive to achieve the best results.”
Approximately every sixth person of working age in the European Union lives with some kind of disability. However, only about 50% of the population with disabilities are employed, marking a stark contrast to nearly 75% of persons without disabilities.
“People with a disability can work for regular companies, too,” emphasizes Tim, one of the project members. “I really like that I have the opportunity to work for a large company, and my disability is not an obstacle.”
“Every project member here has their own skills and talents,” Joanna adds. “For example, one of the team members knows all the article numbers by heart. We have around 300 products, and we are talking about 10-digit numbers here. When I turn to him with a product, he can immediately recall its code; it’s really impressive.”
While equal employment opportunities are crucial to ensure higher independence and greater social inclusion for people with disabilities, closing the employment gap also benefits society as a whole. When asked if the social integration program at Enkhuizen has served other employees at Pipelife Netherlands, Joanna immediately has an answer:
“You know, nowadays, people are constantly on the run — always striving to do more and quicker and better. And when you are working with people like this team, sometimes you have to take a step back and think about what is truly important. You learn to become more attentive to the people around you. And these are very valuable skills.”
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