Eiffage Foundation and Réseau Etincelle: Gérard Castegnaro talks about his commitment and developing the partnership within Eiffage.

Eiffage Group

Since 2020, the Eiffage Foundation has been helping the Réseau Etincelle association roll out its programme designed to remotivate young people who have dropped out of education, at various Eiffage regional agencies. Gérard Castegnaro, a retired Eiffage employee, talks about his ongoing commitment to the association and the involvement of Eiffage regional agencies and employees.

In 2020, the Eiffage Foundation and the Réseau Etincelle association entered into a three-year partnership. The association works to support young people who have dropped out of education, by introducing them to the working environment and to promising career paths. The partnership aims to develop the Réseau Etincelle training programmes in a new area each year, thanks to training courses organised within Eiffage. Over a period of three years, 15 “Eiffage Foundation” training programmes will be delivered as part of the association’s regional development plan. We spoke to Gérard Castegnaro, former project manager at the Construction Division and sponsor of the Réseau Etincelle association, about his commitment to the project. 

Gérard Castegnaro, what inspired your interest in community engagement and what motivated you to get involved with the Réseau Etincelle scheme? 

I think my interest in community engagement goes back to my youth when I was in the Scouts. Later in the 1980s, I volunteered with the Centre des Jeunes Dirigeants (Young Managers Centre), whose motto is to put “business at the service of the individual”. I then chaired the Ile-de-France branch of the CJD in the 1990s. I still have close ties with members of this network, for example the person who started the Réseau Etincelle association, which I sponsor through the Eiffage Foundation. At first I took part in the jury that reviews the presentations given by young people participating in the Réseau Etincelle training scheme, this was around two to three years ago, then I got more involved in the role-play workshops, focusing particularly on practice interviews.

I have been very involved since I retired, I volunteer at an NGO called “La Chaine de l’Espoir”, which builds hospitals in Africa and Asia, in Senegal, Mali, Cambodia and also currently in Iraq. I also volunteer with the “Electricians Without Borders” association. I helped set up photovoltaic electrification projects at a library in Burkina Faso and two schools in Madagascar. The EWB association in Benin is also being supported by the Eiffage Foundation! 

You are the sponsor for the Réseau Etincelle association, which has entered into a multi-year partnership with the Eiffage Foundation, following an initial successful collaboration to promote the “Académie Etincelle”. What is your role within the association today and what do you get out of it? 

As sponsor of the Réseau Etincelle association, I am responsible for setting up training sessions as part of the Eiffage Foundation partnership. It has been agreed that we will run five training sessions a year (over a period of three years) at various Eiffage regional agencies. 

My involvement with this association has been a logical progression, as I was already used to helping my friends’ children find internships and jobs. An engineer by trade, I also mentored and trained young architects and site supervisors, during their assignments on projects in Africa. 
As a “guide”, supporting and passing on my knowledge and experience is part of who I am. Everything I do is voluntary; it’s my way of giving back. 

Where are you now in terms of the Etincelle training sessions at the various Eiffage agencies?

As a former Eiffage employee, my first step was to approach regional managers to present the Réseau Etincelle scheme. 
The first training session at Eiffage Routes in Vitrolles in 2019 was a success, which is why the local agency wanted to renew the experience in May this year. 
We also organised two training sessions for eight young people in December 2021, with Eiffage Construction Ile-de-France at the Vélizy campus, and we organised a session in April with Eiffage Route in Chartres for ten young people. We are planning a session with APRR in June, and another with Eiffage Energies (Clemessy in Mulhouse) in October. We have already found almost all five sites for 2021. The number of participants depends on the size of the rooms that the company can make available. 

You often attend the Réseau Etincelle training sessions, can you describe a typical session?

The training sessions are organised by the Réseau Etincelle association’s regional representative, along with a designated person within the company, usually the HR manager. They organise a particular session where company employees can come and speak about their own careers. This can have great results. For example, out of the eight young people who attended the Vélizy training programme, one managed to secure an internship at Eiffage Construction. 

The young people on the scheme are referred by Pôle Emploi or Mission Locale employment organisations. There are no restrictions or selection processes for people accessing the Réseau Etincelle training sessions. Everyone gets the same opportunity! 
Over five days, interspersed by a weekend, two Réseau Etincelle trainers organise activities and role-play exercises, the aim being to ignite a passion rather than develop skills among the participants. To literally “ignite a spark” (“déclencher une étincelle”).

As far as possible, we want to show them what it’s like working in the field, specifically through visits to worksites and workshops. When a works supervisor gives a talk to these young people, it can show them what it means to be passionate!

At the Vélizy campus, they met a young tiler who had a drywall technician’s qualification but who preferred tiling, and who chose his profession based on his passion. When you work on a construction site, you get an idea of just how much workers respect other people’s work, young people learn politeness, and discover a sense of teamwork. You are never isolated or left to your own devices on a worksite. Workers are more than happy to demonstrate what they do. It’s a rich source of hard and soft skills. 

What would you say to Eiffage employees to encourage them to get involved in solidarity initiatives?

For people in management positions, open the doors to your company and host a training session, you won’t regret it. These young “early school leavers” have come a long way, having either been sidelined by their school or having left of their own accord. Walking through the doors of a company is always a revelation. As one young person put it to me, “this is the first time that I’ve shaken hands with a boss”. They start to see working in a company in a new light, and how it can be fun. They begin to imagine the possibility of joining a large company. In terms of employees, you have the opportunity of talking about your own professional experience, of becoming a “guide”, and opening doors for these young people that they never imagined. Seize that opportunity! 

It’s a rewarding experience for everyone. This is an opportunity to have a real impact in these young people’s lives. At the end of the programme, 84% of these young people take back control of their future! 

What can Eiffage employees do to support the Réseau Etincelle association? 

Employees are invited to take part in the final session as a member of the jury, giving young people feedback on the projects they present at the end of the five-day programme. When the participants leave they are totally motivated, they’ve got their self-confidence back! 
It is also possible to stay in touch with some of them after the end of the training programme, to discuss an internship or a job opportunity, because we often discover real potential. People can also act as mentors, volunteer some of their time to give them advice, either in terms of their personal or professional life. During visits to worksites, you can share your passion with someone who is still looking for theirs!

Click to submit a project to the Eiffage Foundation
Please read the Eiffage Foundation selection criteria carefully and contact the Foundation beforehand to check if your project is eligible: Tel. 0171591118.