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Jan Willem Tolhoek, FreshRecruitment:

"We see ourselves as our clients' temp worker"

When Jan Willem Tolhoek embarked on a new journey as an independent recruiter three years ago, after a nearly 30-year career in the fruit and vegetable sector, it was quite a leap of faith.

That was despite his in-depth knowledge of the industry. He, however, quickly found his groove. "We consider ourselves temp workers for the companies with which we work," Jan Willem begins.

The FreshRecruitment team gelled quickly. Bob Verburg, who brought 25 years of recruitment experience, established the company in 2015 and created a franchise model.

It allows other recruiters, each a specialist within the food sector, to join independently. The team now comprises seven recruiters, each specializing in different agri-food sector areas. "Generally, clients have one point of contact, but if they want to fill a position where my colleague has a better network or expertise, I'm more than happy to pass that request along."

Commitment to the client
Jan Willem notices that recruiters often face prejudice. "That's due to many recruitment agencies' market approach; they shuffle résumés around. We don't do that. We seek true commitment to our clients and ask for a certain level of, not just financial, investment from them. In fact, if companies ask me to send 20 résumés, I refuse. By having a conversation, you understand their needs. They don't need 20 résumé; one, two, or at most three strong candidates suffice," he says.

"Another misconception is that there aren't enough candidates. We're, officially and unofficially, aware of plenty. The issue is that people wanting a new challenge are often already in talks with two or three parties and want clarity as soon as possible. You don't have the time to initiate lengthy procedures; you must act quickly. My experience in the fruit and vegetable sector, which is all about dynamism, is well suited to that. Also, within their specialties, my colleagues and I are seen as one of the sector's own. That connection - expertise and network - is something average recruiters don't have."

New generation of fruit and vegetable professionals
Despite the differences among fruit and vegetable companies, Jan Willem notes that they are increasingly catering to the changing wants of the new generation of professionals. "There will always be the traditional, conservative traders. But the supply side is increasingly consolidating. Producers are becoming larger, and retailers are forming closer ties with big cultivation companies to ensure product availability. Often, these types of companies operate more modernly and are more open to, for example, hybrid working or flexible working hours," he explains.

"Fruit and vegetable sector salaries are still above average. That used to require above-average time and effort. Needs are changing, though. Fruit and vegetable professionals also want to pick up their children from school one day or work from home. Some companies are more flexible than others. I think it's healthy if you start work at 6:30 am, and it's fine to leave at 3:00 pm while remaining available for clients. Many fruit and vegetable companies long considered that taboo, and that's where the job market is very competitive."

The power of 50+'s
"Every company naturally wants that elusive all-rounder, but at the same time, 50+'s are often considered too old. I believe companies forget that these people still have 15 years of work left in them and bring an entire network, knowledge, and experience. It's much more about the right mix of ages and cohesion within a company because it's generally a team sport. Ideally, there should be a third of the people under 30, a third between 30 and 50, and a third 50+," says Tolhoek.

"It often surprised me when, say, Pete leaves a company, and then a five-year-old job profile is pulled from a drawer. I ask, do you want Pete 2.0, or do you want to see what the company needs now? We can help by making businesses reflect on that. I had to learn that, too. I used to be very 'short-sighted' and often blamed others for everything."

"And perhaps, for an organization, retaining people is even more important than attracting them. That means employers must have a proactive attitude towards their employees and must be happy and challenged enough. I love brainstorming with business owners about such matters and challenging them to think outside the box," Jan Willem concludes.

For more information:
Jan Willem Tolhoek
Tel.: +31 (0) 682 183 103
[email protected]

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