After a varied career, Juan became unemployed just before he turned 50. It would take him three years to get back to work, but he honed his ambitions during that time: his new job would serve a good cause. Today, Juan is production manager at enVie, a start-up with a sustainable vision on food and employment.
“Employers aren’t necessarily looking for what you know or what you can do, but rather at who you are.”
“I like to describe myself as a globetrotter,” says Juan Sarda about his own career. He worked in the hospitality industry, travelled around the world for ten years, and ended up in Belgium 21 years ago, thanks to his wife. Here, he started working as a room manager in a hotel and then made the transition to the logistics sector. His employer went bankrupt and Juan entered a long period of unemployment.
“That wasn’t pleasant, especially given my age, but as an unemployed person, I started to look at things from a new perspective after a while,” he says. “Did I like my previous jobs and was it what I was really looking for? Then I decided that I absolutely wanted a job in which I would do something meaningful for society, even though this made it even more difficult for myself.”
When the opportunity to work for a social project became concrete and Juan received the offer to work for enVie, he grabbed it with both hands. This Brussels-based social enterprise produces fresh soups with fresh Belgian vegetable surpluses. The project started with the support of Colruyt Group, McCain Belgium, Randstad Group, REO Veiling, and the Food Banks.
“It immediately appealed to me,” says Juan, “because enVie combines several beautiful goals. At enVie, we work with people who have a chance to reintegrate into society and find their way into the labour market. At the same time, we use our soups to reduce food wastage. I haven’t regretted this choice for a moment. A beautiful project, a fantastic director, stable partners, fascinating challenges to join together as a warm family, and much more. I don’t know why anyone would turn down a job like this.”
Juan enthusiastically supported the project, which is located on the Abattoirs site in Anderlecht. When we ask him what it is like to get people ready for the labour market after long-term unemployment, his eyes light up. “I think enVie’s social mission is fantastic. I recognise myself in the situation of the people we employ. Our employees receive professional training here. In this way, I can guide them towards a stronger position on the labour market. It is very rewarding to see how you can give people the right assets. That’s how they regain their self-confidence and start believing in themselves again. That’s what counts.”
These assets are not always ‘hard skills’, emphasises Juan. It’s not just about learning how to operate machinery. “You always have different assets in your repertoire,” he says. “In French, we describe these assets as your ‘savoir’, your ‘savoir-faire’, and your ‘savoir-être’: the things you know, the things you can do, and, lastly, who you are. After a period of unemployment, I began to realise that employers in today’s labour market are not necessarily interested in what you know or even in what you can do. It’s who you are that matters. It’s about how you behave, how you’re punctual, how positive you are, etc., things you were raised to do. Frankly, I think that is what many employers are looking for in the first place.”
Tips for long-term job seekers