'Shining example of Factory of the Future'
Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters CD&V visited the Oesterbank site in Ostend yesterday. Established as a site for sheltered employment in 1966, the Oesterbank functions as a fully-fledged industrial site today that employs a staff of 350 workers who struggle to find employment elsewhere on the job market. As a supplier to the industry the Oesterbank has about thirteen companies as clients, with Daikin as their key customer. Daikin’s partnership with the Oesterbank served as a blueprint for the non-profit organisation ConnAct’s ‘Kracht’ Force trial project. “This project highlights the future prospects of a partnership chain between major companies and their logistics partners, suppliers and eventually also the social economy,” explains one of the ConnAct founders, Raf Sempels. The organisation hopes to establish how these underprivileged group’s opportunities can be increased within a chain of organisations and businesses. “Our biggest advantage is that ConnAct actively sources the businesses that can use our services. Various companies, including De Lijn and Bombardier, have so far shown an interest. This will lead to new contracts and more work, and eventually also more stability and employment for the Oesterbank,” says Oesterbank director Luc Rosseel. As lots of assignments for sheltered employment workers have left to low wage countries, the industry increasingly offers employment in public gardening and odd jobs. At the Oesterbank, however, it was decided not to let industrial experience go to waste. “Today we prove that with automisation sheltered employment still has a meaningful place within the industry,” says Rosseel. ConnAct was established within the framework of minister-president Kris Peeters’ ‘Factory of the Future’ initiative to identify future examples in the industrial industry. The Flemish government approved the ‘Kracht’ project and injected 460 000 euros into research and support with future-oriented initiatives. "The Oesterbank shows how the insertion of underprivileged groups is favouring a modern and competitive organisation of the production. The Factory of the Future is not only an innovative and productive factory, but also an enterprise that focuses on opportunities matched to the skills of this group,” Peeters said.