I-Cooks, the employment agency of hospitality entrepreneur Mathijs Gielen (De Staat, Arnhem) now has 70 foreign cooks working in the Netherlands. In addition to individual companies, companies such as Meyer Beheer, Landal and a caterer also hire chefs via I-Cooks.
‘We started I-Cooks at the beginning of 2019 and the first chefs started working through us in March. We now have 70 chefs at work. Especially basic cooks and self-employed cooks.’ Gielen: ‘The summer jobs are now coming to an end. We did see a clear peak in those months. But now we are also seeing requests coming in from November to March. After all, there are also many catering companies with a peak in the winter.’ Looking ahead, Gielen hopes to have at least 140 migrant workers working in the Netherlands in a year’s time. ‘I think that’s an ugly word, labor migrant, but yes, it does cover the load. Only catering, but we want to expand to service. We do go for quality placements. That is paramount.’
Hospitality entrepreneurs were quite skeptical in the beginning. Temporary employment agencies suffer from a bad image. We have noticed that. Fortunately, we were allowed to prove ourselves and we were given assignments. If you don’t disappoint entrepreneurs, you’ll be fine. We resolve complaints quickly. And if someone unexpectedly doesn’t fit into the team or the type of kitchen – despite our screening – we will find another candidate.’
Gielen started I-Cooks with two partners. ‘We have now also hired three recruiters. One of them will be doing project management from November. His tasks will be arranging and checking accommodation, transport of the cooks from Schiphol to the accommodation, but also their commuting and arranging the contracts. We visit all our accommodations because we want to make sure that chefs can live well.’ Gielen wants to focus on growth and continue to recruit new clients. ‘With some clients, for example, we made the first contact in March and you only come up with an agreement months later.’ Recently, I-Cooks also has someone working in Lisbon (Portugal) who selects the candidates for them
Matching those candidates with the right client has not proven to be easy. ‘Is the command correct? Does it cover what the entrepreneur wants in practice? Can the chef actually cook the requested cuisine? Is someone under-qualified or over-qualified? “In most cases, things are going well. If there is a mismatch, we solve it by placing a new candidate.’
In addition to accommodation, I-Cooks arranges more for the cooks who come to the Netherlands. ‘When a cook comes to the Netherlands, there is an immediate appointment with the municipality where he or she will be working, for inclusion in the Municipal Personal Records Database and the granting of a citizen service number. We also arrange (health) insurance. Remuneration (via payroll) is done through our partner Ergon Nederland (NBBU).’
Gielen now employs people from 14 countries in the Netherlands. But this number is significantly reduced. “We will focus on Portugal and Spain. Why? Passion, work ethic, loyalty. Can I summarize it like this? That is why we now also have someone in Portugal who does the selection of candidates for us. Due to Brexit, we are currently also receiving a lot of offers from chefs who still work in the United Kingdom. So we can supply enough chefs to our clients.’
Cook employed by the client
Six cooks who were first posted via I-Cooks are now employed by their client. “That was our goal beforehand. In order to provide a structural solution to the chef shortage. We make agreements about this in advance with the client. There is free movement for EU employees, so nothing stands in our way.’ What does ‘stand in the way’ is the Balanced Labor Market Act, which will come into effect on 1 January. ‘The cost of labor will increase by five to six percent . Unfortunately we can’t change that either.’
I-Cooks can coexist well with a platform like Temper , says Gielen. ‘Temper is really for the very short term. To fill gaps in the grid. Our services can easily take up a few months. However, we are both here to provide a solution for entrepreneurs. It is up to the catering companies to choose. Or even use us side by side.’
Gielen also encourages initiatives that exist to train lateral entrants to become basic cooks . ‘The supply of chefs who come from regular training is not sufficient to meet the demand for kitchen staff. Not even if you include lateral entrants. Regular temporary employment agencies cannot find enough people either. I-Cooks cannot completely solve the problem either. We can contribute to it together. All a little bit.’
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