Recruiting, the other challenge of Battery Valley

Stellantis employees at the battery production site in Douvrin, Pas-de-Calais on May 10, 2023 (AFP / FRANCOIS LO PRESTI)

After 20 years building Peugeot engines, Sylvain Desquiens, 45, is learning to cut aluminum sheets with a laser to manufacture car batteries: a retraining for a sector he believes is “full of the future”, which will allow create thousands of jobs.

“We are a bit of the pioneers”, laughs this installation driver, who is one of the first recruits of ACC, a French battery manufacturer, whose factory inaugurated on May 30 in Pas-de-Calais will be the first to produce batteries in France.

His colleague Grégory Lecocq, 48, a former rotary operator who will be responsible for pressing aluminum sheets coated with a paste of rare metals, agrees: “It’s still more the future than paper and printing. “.

Attract, train and recruit: in the race to produce electric car batteries in Europe, one of the challenges for future factories setting up in France is to quickly recruit thousands of employees.

“Having the factories is good. Having the staff is better”, recently launched Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, where this Battery Valley is taking shape.

– “Big scrap” –

The four future gigafactories of the country, the French ACC (a joint venture of Stellantis, TotalEnergies and Mercedes-Benz), the Sino-Japanese Envision, the Grenoble start-up Verkor, and the Taiwanese ProLogium, are located between Dunkirk and the mining basin, in an area already rich in automotive infrastructure.

More than 20,000 jobs by 2030 should be created thanks to these factories, according to the Automotive Platform (PFA), a professional body for the automotive industry in France.

Information meetings, job dating sessions and on-site training are already going well: ACC launches its production in July, the others will follow from 2024.

A mobile technical platform was installed at the beginning of May at the Stellantis factory in Douvrin (Pas-de-Calais) to introduce employees to work in a clean room and facilitate their transfer to battery manufacturers by the upcoming closure of the automotive site. .

Sylvain Desquiens left Stellantis Douvrin in November 2021 to join ACC’s “gigafactory”, in Billy-Berclau, a few hundred meters away.

Despite this proximity, a world separates its former factory of heat engines, banned in the EU from 2035, and the immaculate rooms of ACC, with workers in laboratory clothes.

“Here, we are clean almost all the time, and the parts are light, it’s a big change. Opposite, it was big scrap with a lot of oil”, explains Mr. Desquiens.

During the beginnings on the pilot site of ACC in Charente, it was necessary to grope to take in hand the Chinese or Korean machines and to design the technical trainings.

– “True hypocrisy” –

“We learned little by little, by asking questions”, he explains, acknowledging that for some colleagues, the prospect of starting from scratch in such a different world can be “scary”.

Stellantis employees in a battery production room at the Douvrin battery site in Pas-de-Calais on May 10, 2023

Stellantis employees in a battery production room at the Douvrin battery site in Pas-de-Calais on May 10, 2023 (AFP/FRANCOIS LO PRESTI)

Because it will not be enough to make the workers of the automobile industry cross the street to find the workforce.

“We are going to put the package on skills and training, it is the mother of battles”, asserted Emmanuel Macron in mid-May during a visit to Dunkirk.

Faced with the magnitude of the task, competing manufacturers have joined forces in a training program, Electromob, supported by public funds and endowed with 25 million euros.

The rectorate will adapt the existing diplomas in chemistry and industrial maintenance and increase the number of places in technical education. And Pôle Emploi identify unemployed people who are likely to be trained.

But despite the pharaonic announcements, job creations may not compensate for the tens of thousands of jobs lost in France during the accelerated transition to all-electric, recognize unions and leaders.

The CGT condemns a “comedy on reindustrialization, real hypocrisy” because “it is done by sacrificing 50,000 jobs on all automotive sites”.

On the employers’ side, PFA estimates that 52,000 jobs are at risk, for 23,000 to 35,000 jobs created by 2030.

© 2023 AFP

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