The Id'ées Group: thirty years of combining recycling with social integration for people excluded from the labor market
Thirty years of job creation: a record that makes you stop and think. The winds of change have come to the long-abandoned Kodak plant In the industrial park at Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgundy: in 2011 Id'ées Services set up 7000 square meters of workshops there; not to revive the film photography of the past, but to turn cardboard into palettes and cellulose wadding—and most importantly of all, into jobs. Corinne Takhmirt has been working there since September 2013: "Before I started here," she says, "I was a PA in retailing on a fixed term contract. But at 47 I knew that was the end of the line."
Specializing in recycling and social integration through work, Id'ées Services is the most recent subsidiary of the Id'ées Group founded by Pierre Choux and Jacques Danière back in the 1980s. This group of social integration companies has been creating jobs for close on 30 years now, initially in Burgundy and then across France, where it is now number one in its field. Most of its employees are sent by local social welfare bodies or state job centers. In 2013 it employed in all 4000 people—the equivalent of 1600 full-time jobs, 1300 of them involving social integration. In contrast with normal businesses, an integration company is a success when its employees move on: and success at Id'ées is its departure rate of 62–64 percent. "Since we got started," says CEO Pierre Choux, "45.000 people have left for permanent jobs."
The group will be celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in 2015, but "politically speaking it was born in 1981." This was when European Union countries began providing assistance programs for the long-term unemployed. At the time Pierre Choux and Jacques Danière were street educators: "We were organizing educational programs, but we realized that it was easier to integrate young people into the world of work if you were part of that world yourself. Between 1981–1985 we checked out different occupations, then set up projects: our idea was that you shouldn't offer young people in difficulty a single occupation. The result was a corporate philosophy of diversity."
Cartons, plastic container caps, honey candy, park maintenance, house moving, catering, event management—the Id'ées group is now very active in industry and the service sector, and providing fresh qualifications for people excluded from the labor market.
With the coming of the new millennium, says Patrick Choux, Pierre's son and the group's general manager, Id'ées Services decided to "develop a business that can generate spin-off, whose development can be controlled and which must be able to function on a compact network—that is to say, locally." But, as industrial development head Christian Marie recounts, economic imponderables and public funding cuts meant that "in 2008 we lost 80 percent of our industrial business—12 percent of our business as a whole." The group learnt from this, though, and now diversification, support from different trades, and a stress on locally based profitability have become the keys to ongoing job creation at Id'ées. For Pierre Choux, "It's through responsiveness, proximity and quality that you can beat the competition on prices."
The diversity of the group's activities is in sharp contrast with the undisguised bleakness of the old Kodak offices. The corridors are mostly empty, and in the block housing the glue machines, beam saws and slitter scorers there are only one or two people in each workshop: Corinne Takhmirt, for example, is alone with her machine. This does not mean, though, that nothing is happening: small teams make every aspect of the process—training, integration, mobility, etc.—easier. "Training happens in pairs," Corinne explains. At the group's headquarters and industrial subcontracting center in Chenôve there's more visible action, but the teams are still kept small: in another workshop David Beaujard, 37, and Charlotte Leduc, 22, are working face to face on electronic device mounting plates for Schneider Electric and radiator manufacturer Acova. In the plastics department the team eliminating faulty items for the world's number three plastic cap maker is slightly bigger: ten or so.
These small units enable substantial turnover in the workshops filling subcontracting orders, as well as ongoing adaptation of new projects from the very outset: packaging of Apidis honey candy, for example, was done manually at first, then went mechanical once the order books were full.
Having said that, the real success as the founders see it is not the sales figure of over 55m euros, but the fact that Eric Putginy, Id'ées' first employee, is now an executive with one of the group's eight subsidiaries. And on 26 September Id'ées will be holding a party at Chenôve to celebrate the signing of its 100.000th employment contract. (Anne Rodier, Le Monde, France)
English translation: John Tittensor