South-African mechanical engineer Stefan Bisschoff (27) had planned to go backpacking and hiking after his graduation in 2019. The COVID-pandemic forced him onto a different path. A path that held him in South-Africa first, and eventually led him to the Netherlands. Not just for traveling, but for working too. ‘Staying in one place for a while feels even better than just backpacking. It’s still an adventure, and I get to gain working experience, save some money to start my own company, and travel Europe in my free time.’
Leaving and loving South-Africa
Stefan had come across multiple staffing agencies who recruit South-African engineers for jobs in the Netherlands. ‘I guess it’s because of the relatedness between Afrikaans and Dutch. But thinking that they are the same thing is a mistake, I found out. Now that I’ve lived here for a year, I can understand my colleagues in meetings in Dutch, but speaking is still quite difficult.’
Even though Stefan was serious about going abroad, he did not choose lightly. ‘I feel quite strongly about the difficult situation that my country is in. I didn’t want to leave South-Africa because of negative reasons. There is a real danger of a brain drain if qualified engineers just leave and forget about where they came from. Unfortunately, there are companies who don’t care about this and recruit young people by offering a way out, so to say.’
Ambitions and goals
TMC was different. Stefan came across TMC on LinkedIn and got in touch with them. In his first contact with TMC, Stefan quickly realized that there would be much room for his own ambitions. ‘A job interview in South-Africa often is more like an interrogation, with a focus on what’s best for the company. TMC was interested in what I want to do: a career that leads somewhere, the opportunity to make an impact, and to learn and gain experience. They built my profile and started looking for the right customer.’
With the help of TMC, Stefan improved his CV. He received coaching and practiced his interview skills. During his first interviews with potential customers, his TMC business manager was even present as a fly on the wall. Afterwards they would talk about how it went, and Stefan would receive valuable feedback. Within two months after his first meeting with TMC, Stefan found his first assignment.
In the meantime, TMC worked on getting Stefan his visa and work permit, and they supported him with housing options. Also, they made sure he got the ‘kennismigrant’ status, which can provide up to 30% tax benefits. ‘All in all, TMC created a soft landing. I had heard that it can be quite difficult to get a visa and a work permit, but for me it really wasn’t. I had very little paperwork to do.’
‘When I moved to the Netherlands, I first lived in Amersfoort, right in the heart of the Netherlands. Now, we live in a rented house only a short drive away from the TMC Eindhoven office, and De Meeuw, my first client. It’s nice to be living together. I may not have come if I had to do it completely alone. I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing anything alone, really, because that’s just not human nature.’
De Meeuw specializes in manufacturing and installing prefabricated, flexible, and modular buildings. Stefan is involved in analyzing production processes, looking for opportunities to automate them and implementing improvements. ‘Working in the Netherlands is an interesting process in itself, since there is little hierarchy in the Dutch workplace. I was used to being able to come up with an improvement and have it implemented in my way. Here, I must explain and discuss my ideas first, and decide together with my colleagues about what solutions fits best. In the beginning this was sometimes frustrating, but it is precisely the kind of experience that makes it worthwhile to spend some time abroad and learn about how things work outside of South Africa.’
Mechanical engineering and woodworking
Stefan’s goal is to one day bring his experiences back to South Africa and have his home country benefit from what he has learned. Ideally by starting his own business. ‘I have been dreaming of opening a woodworking company. Creating cabinets and tables may have little to do with my current specialization, but I have been fascinated by it since I learned about woodworking from my father, who did it as a hobby. The fact that I’m spending time in the Netherlands, earning a decent salary opens doors for me. This is my message to South-Africans who are having doubts about leaving the country: it doesn’t have to be forever. You can also work abroad for a while and then come back home with new ideas, experiences, and knowledge.’
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