Patrick Lebrun, Deputy Managing Director of VINCI Energies, analyses the changes taking place in expertise and business activities as well as the new aspirations of young talent and the ways in which companies must adapt.

Could you tell us about the new business activities, new expertise, and new profiles that are now taking hold and emerging?

The digital information and communication technologies that have long been an integral part of VINCI Energies’ activities, solutions, and services are currently being introduced at an increasing pace. This calls for new skills and for the creation of new activities, especially in the field of data. Meanwhile, business activities are being transformed as new expertise, for example energy storage, is added.

Throughout the economy, half of all the business activities that will exist in 10 years’ time do not yet exist. The activities that are emerging and taking root are in fields such as augmented reality, virtual reality, increasingly complex algorithms, artificial intelligence, big data utilisation, image processing, and very precise geo-location. They cut across VINCI Energies as a whole: industry, “the industry of the future” or “Industry 4.0”, which is increasingly digital, energy and transport infrastructure, with smart grids, buildings, public facilities, and cities. Everything is now smart – in other words, digital!

But there is a caveat: technology, algorithms, digital activities and so on only make sense if they serve people. This vision was reflected in our participation at the most recent Viva Technology, held in Paris in June 2018, where we focused on the theme “Human beyond Digital”.

For several years now there has been a lot of talk about the “talent war”. Are you involved in it?

Let me start by saying that to me the word “war” has a precise meaning and I think it is important not to over-use it. However, there is indeed very strong competition in our various labour markets. It is not a fundamentally new phenomenon but it is getting worse due to growing scarcity of a number of skills, substantial demand, unfavourable demographic trends in a number of countries, and the stepped-up energy and digital transformation.

This stiff competition for talent involves more than just recruitment. It is important to attract the best talent, but it is also important to retain it!

How would you describe the job market in the main countries where VINCI Energies operates?

All of our job markets are under pressure. For one thing, the economy is improving virtually everywhere, which is good news. For another, our markets are promising in the long term in both transformation and acceleration. It is true that some countries and some skills are under more pressure than others. There is over-employment in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany. In France, unemployment remains high, but the skilled jobs required in VINCI Energies’ technology-focused segment are under pressure in most of our markets.

What about women at VINCI Energies?

We still have far too few (13 %, across all activities, functions and levels)! One of our major goals is to hire more women for our teams, if only because women constitute half of humankind and thus form a talent pool we would be foolish to neglect. In addition, many of our customers and partners are making progress in hiring women, and we must follow suit to keep pace with them. Lastly, it is now crystal clear – based on a large number of studies carried out using a wide variety of approaches – that better gender balance has a very beneficial effect on companies’ creativity, growth and performance, on the quality of life of their teams, on their ability to weather crises, and on their corporate social responsibility.

We are making progress, but not fast enough. And I am struck by the fact that our gender profile is not changing despite the transformation of the group as it expands, including into new countries.

For young graduates, pay is no longer the only criterion…

True. Workplace atmosphere and quality of life, work content and interest, values, management, personal development and work-life balance are also important. Three decades ago, people aimed for a career. Now they look for a workplace experience that offers fulfilment and meaning. All these aspects have become very important, and not just for young people. But pay is still a factor. It is an “all at the same time” expectation, if I could coin a phrase.

What practical changes has VINCI Energies made in this respect?

We are doing a lot of work on our tools and our premises, on employee skills development, and on the management of our business units, for which the cornerstone is what we call our “shared budget/strategic plan”. Top-down management is a thing of the past and today’s talent wants a more participatory, collaborative approach. Our business model based on networked human-scale business units lends itself to the development of a 21st century style of leadership. Working on it helps us recruit talent, but, to repeat, it also helps us keep our promise of offering meaningful, motivating, and fulfilling long-term careers.

In your recruitment policy, how important are soft skills compared to technical qualifications?

Soft skills are crucial, especially in service activities, where people work in teams and in project mode. Attentiveness, generosity and solidarity help build collective intelligence. Today, you can’t succeed with hyper-individualistic whiz kids. In fact, VINCI based its most recent recruitment drive on soft skills, encouraging those who are “too ambitious”, “too bold”, “too creative”, “too curious” and “too generous” to submit a job application.

But here again, we have an “all at the same time” expectation. In a group like VINCI Energies, which includes a wide range of technologies in all its solutions and services, and operates against a backdrop of accelerating transformation, we also need people who are well versed in state-of-the-art technologies.

With technologies, skills, business activities and markets changing constantly and at an ever-faster pace, how does a business unit rise to the challenge?

The keyword is “agility” and it reflects VINCI Energies’ organisational structure. Our group employs 75,000 people and generates revenue exceeding €10 million by a wide margin, but our trademark and one of our success drivers is our special structure, which we have managed to retain: a flotilla of small boats, rather than a huge aircraft carrier; autonomous business units on a human scale that are flexible, responsive and agile, and that operate close to our customers.

The key lies in being agile, accelerating our innovation processes, integrating new work and management methods, and fostering relationships with our suppliers, who are also substantially innovating.

But there is another very important factor: skills development and ongoing training. We are providing more training than ever, but we will no doubt have to further step up our efforts, with the support of the new forms of learning that are now emerging. We must make all our business units into learning organisations, in which every employee is constantly learning and acquiring new skills, including in his or her day-to-day work. This is prerequisite for our success going forward.

To what extent is the acceleration of the digital transformation affecting your school partnership strategy?

Two things are changing: the engineering schools from which we regularly recruit graduates are expanding their curricula to include subjects such as artificial intelligence and cyber-security. At the same time, we are developing partnerships with universities and engineering schools in France, Europe, and around the world with which we previously had little if any contact and which have built curricula to prepare students for tomorrow’s jobs. We have forged such partnerships in countries such as the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Morocco, and Belgium and with campuses in French cities such as Marseille, Rennes, and of course the Greater Paris area.

What is your conclusion?

Throughout the history of VINCI Energies, innovation has helped drive the expansion of our business units. Innovation is a very important factor in making our solutions and services attractive and giving us a competitive edge. In a world that is changing at an ever-faster pace, innovation more than ever constitutes a major opportunity. To take full advantage of it, we must constantly develop the skills of our teams and help them acquire new skills.

We must therefore make an unprecedented effort to train our employees and recruit people who have both the skills that will be needed in the future and a great capacity for change. By continuing to bring a large number of young people into our business units, as we always have, and by making a determined effort to include more women in our teams, we will meet the challenges of creativity, innovation, and new skills and business activities, and we will succeed in the world of the future.