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Damen: Like Father, Like Son: Jan & Thijs van Weelden

Posted on July 1, 2024

“It’s very nice to have him nearby”

With Damen being a family-owned company, it is not surprising that more than one generation from individual families work within the organisation. One such family is the Van Weeldens. The father, Jan van Weelden, aged 57, has been working at Damen Shipyards Gorinchem, in the Netherlands, for thirty-four years, and is now a slipway boss and is also the Chairman of the Staff Association as well as a first aid and emergency response instructor. Meanwhile, one of his sons, Thijs, joined the group just over two years ago at the age of twenty and currently works as an IT Support Engineer.

Starting young

However, Thijs had his first Damen experience in 2009, when he was just seven years old. Jan often took one of his three children took with him when his duties included doing the opening and closing rounds, and checking at the weekends to ensure that no-one had broken in. Thijs remembers vividly walking through a shed filled with freshly painted ships, weaving his way through the propellers while keeping his eyes on the floor to avoid tripping over the cables. “It made a big impression on me”, says Thijs. “To this day, when I walk through that shed the smell takes me back in time, to when I was a small boy surrounded by big ships.”

Thijs didn’t have to wait long before he began his career at Damen. At the age of fourteen he joined the company as a school intern. When he was looking for an internship that would match his interest in technology and IT he asked his father if he had any suggestions. A few days later Jan gave him the email address of David Kentie at the shipyard, but made it clear that it was up to Thijs to contact him and explain why he would be a good candidate. “I got the internship and over the following years I returned a number of times as an intern and holiday worker in IT and IM,” says Thijs.

Finding the right career

Eighteen months ago, Thijs took a job with a construction firm in Rotterdam, but he quickly realised that it wasn’t for him. After just a few weeks he received an email from David Kentie asking him if would like to work for him. For Thijs it was a dream come true. After a very quick consultation with his father, who told him to accept the offer immediately, he made the call!

“I saw it coming a bit because David had cautiously asked me once if Thijs was happy with his job,” confesses Jan, “and I answered no. Then I suspected that David might contact him. I knew Thijs would be much happier with Damen.”

“I do feel at home here,” says Thijs. “I enjoy the work, and most of my colleagues know that we are family, and some have done so since I was a teenage intern. My father wants me to be independent, but it’s great to be able to access his knowledge and experience.” Thijs also enjoys catching the occasional glimpse of his father driving past his office window in a forklift truck. He also shares his own knowledge, helping his father with laptop problems, so the knowledge transfers go both ways.

Jan and Thijs have lunch every Thursday to catch up, and the conversation over dinner back at the family home often turns to what’s new and interesting back at the shipyard. Jan’s role as Chairman of the Staff Association gives him lots of insights, and Damen and the people that work with him are a big part of his life. He is certainly in no hurry to slow down or retire.

In the short time that he has been working there, Thijs has come to fully appreciate why that is so. “I also see myself working here for many years to come, and would love to one day surpass my father in years of service. In the meantime, there is still much to learn and do, and I look forward to it!”

On the top image from left to right:
Thijs van Weelden (IT Support Engineer, Damen Global Support),  Jan van Weelden (Foreman Slipway, Damen Shipyards Hardinxveld)

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