‘Imagine what you could do?’: inspiring young talent at Umicore
At Umicore, we have our eye on the future as the energy transition picks up pace and our organisation adapts to seize this opportunity. Guiding us through the years ahead is our Umicore 2030 RISE strategy, which will help us become a reliable transformation partner, a technology and innovation leader, and a sustainability champion, as we excel in execution for our customers.
Fulfilling our ambitions depends on having a recruitment approach that is just as forward-looking. We need young, fresh talent with open mindsets if we’re to deliver the kind of innovation that a decarbonised economy demands. More than that, our organisation is stronger the more diverse it is. The future looks brighter when it includes people from different backgrounds, of different ages, ready to grow and develop within – and alongside – Umicore.
The Young Graduate Program
We’re training the talent of tomorrow through our Young Graduate program, which gives those who have recently finished their university degree the opportunity to gain experience in various technical and business areas of the organisation. Across two years, they can work in different departments, business units and projects to learn about themselves, the company, the work environment and acquire the necessary skills to become a manager at the end of the program. In 2023, we welcomed more graduates than ever in Belgium (25), reaching gender parity with 51% of female graduates, and added our first graduates in Poland and Germany, who were the latest international cohort to join following the program’s expansion after China. We also have other programs dedicated to young talent such as engineering traineeships or apprenticeships covering other regions.
For Inge Van Antwerpen, Young Talent and Onboarding Manager, the benefits of the program go both ways. “As a company, we get to tap into some of the best and brightest minds coming onto the labour market, who bring new ideas and ways of thinking to our projects. But we make a real effort to ensure the grads arrive at the end of their two-year rotation feeling empowered, challenged, and supported by a community that values their contribution. Put simply, we all win.”
There is, naturally, a large emphasis placed on personal and professional development in the program, but this is largely graduate led; they’re the ones in the driver’s seat. As Inge explains, “On a group level in their first year, then on a personal level in their second year, the graduates can specialise in the areas they’re most interested in, which ultimately broadens the capabilities of Umicore’s future management team. This besides also following other trainings that are available groupwide to all employees.”
“My experience at Umicore as a Technical YG has been very enriching so far. In the past 5 months, I have gained a lot of soft skills, not only through the courses provided by Umicore but also by being challenged every day in performing my daily job. One thing that I love about working at Umicore is the open culture of the company. It's really nice to connect with like-minded colleagues during lunches or after-work drinks. ”
Axelle, Technical Young Graduate
The Umicore community
What should become clear to the graduates is that the scope for progression is limitless, as evidenced by our CFO, Wannes Preferoen, who started out as one of them. With that said, the true aim of the program is for the graduates to feel their way through the two years, getting to know themselves and the company better, so that by the end they have a good understanding of their expertise and what role or department suits them best.
Inge highlights just how important it is for the grads to meet and engage with those on the factory floor. “If they don’t see what’s happening at the production sites, and the people who work there, then they won’t be able to fully grasp who we are as a company and what we stand for. To me, it’s really important we make that connection. As such, we run site visits to make our work more tangible, and so that these future managers know who they will one day be working alongside.”
“At the heart of this Young Graduate Program is a spirit of camaraderie and collaboration. It is a fantastic opportunity for young talent to encounter a diverse set of experiences in an exciting company that operates in a dynamic market. On top of that, our work makes a meaningful impact on the environment through the development and application of circular materials.”
Ségolène, Young Graduate
From the very start of their Umicore journey – when they’re welcomed by our CEO on their first day – our young graduates are made to feel like they belong. As well as their buddy (former young graduates themselves), the grads can turn to Inge and her team for support and guidance. “I have a sort of motherly role in the program! Umicore is a big company, and these grads are still very young, so it’s important they have somebody to chat to about things both big and small. In turn, they keep me young and give me a lot of energy. There’s nothing more rewarding to me than seeing a graduate bloom into a happy and successful Umicore professional, who feels that they have developed as a person too.”
Inspiring from a young age
Before becoming the program’s project lead, Inge was a recruitment manager, which involved matching university students to Umicore internships. That passion for supporting early careers continues: “I’m responsible for all young talents, which means I have an opportunity to inspire kids from as young as 10 to get involved in STEM and take interest in the kind of work we do at Umicore. It’s my dream to be here in 20 years’ time and see the young kids I’ve spoken to come to work for us!”
“The Young Graduate Program truly is a blessing. The relationship you develop with other Young Graduates is quite unique, because you get to know each other on a deeper level very quickly. There is an enormous amount of respect, trust and recognition within the group and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.”
Hannes, Young Graduate
The Young Graduate Program will continue to expand and evolve as Umicore itself continues to grow. We’re fortunate to have a dedicated team willing to make it happen. “It’s one big puzzle trying to find the right roles for the right grads,” Inge says. “But to be honest, I couldn’t think of any job I’d rather do.”
“One of the best things about the program is the community of Young Graduates. We are a diverse and dynamic group of young professionals who share our experiences, challenges and successes. We also have fun together and we are looking forward to our YG weekend which we organise ourselves.”
Amber, Young Graduate