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Recruiter's interview : Jean-Paul KOVALESKY, CEO of Vibratec

Vibratec carries out diagnoses, or provides conception services for manufacturers. This SME, which specialises in the dynamics of structures and acoustic and vibration phenomena, also has the particularity of employing doctors (PhDs). ABG had a discussion with its CEO, Jean-paul Kovalesky, and is now pleased to share it with you.

itw_JP_Kovalesky_Vibratec

PhD profiles and recruitment at Vibratect 

PhDs and SMEs with an international reputation: a win-win cooperation 

Conclusion


Could you Introduce yourself and present briefly your background?

I am an engineer graduated from the Ecole Polytechnique de Paris, with a specialization in chemical engineering acquired at the IFP School (Institut Français du Pétrole). I then made a career in the chemical industry within the Rhône Poulenc group, where I held all the technical positions in engineering or in the factory: from design engineer to industrial subsidiary manager, including site manager. For 8 years, I was industrial director of Kerneos (1500 employees), a world leader in certain mineral products. My role was to coordinate the activity of the 12 plants located around the world. An exciting job that gave me a taste for the international and taught me how to make teams from totally different cultures work together. Finally, 11 years ago, I took over Vibratec (now 120 employees): a company specialising in the dynamics of structures and acoustic and vibration phenomena. My career is therefore a highly technical engineering career, guided by the question "How to combine physical, chemical, mechanical and electromagnetic knowledge with the objective of a system? ».

PhDs profiles and recruitment at Vibratec

  • What is the proportion of PhDs in Vibratec's teams?

At the moment (August 2019), Vibratec has 18 PhDs, representing 15% of our staff. We are a research company, so it is logical that we have a high proportion of PhDs. In addition, this is a desire on my part, because I consider that PhDs have a significantly different contribution to the company than Masters graduates and engineers.

  • What types of profiles do you recruit? How is the research experience of PhDs useful to Vibratec?

They are PhDs, experts in various technical and disciplinary fields: s’agit de docteurs, experts dans divers champs techniques et disciplinaires :

  • mechanics;
  • signal processing;
  • Calculus / simulation;
  • tests / measurements / instrumentation.

Imagine a PhD candidate who has developed a new method of acoustic simulation. At the end of his PhD, he succeeds in modelling a cube. I recruit him at Vibratec with the challenge of using his method to model a car, which represents 5 million cubes. For me, the challenge of recruiting PhDs is to seek out expertise and methods that are unique worldwide, to transform this cutting-edge scientific expertise into tools, in order to solve my clients' concrete industrial problems.

  • What is your sourcing strategy to find PhDs?

At Vibratec, we recruit on average 2 or 3 PhDs per year, which, for a company with 120 employees, is relatively high. They are recruited according to disciplinary expertise criteria within our scientific network of universities. The latter consists of:

  • the laboratories we have worked with;
     
  • PhDs we meet at the scientific congresses in which we participate.

Indeed, in Vibratec, we lead collaborative projects, French and European, which involve:

  • one (or more) of our clients;
     
  • research companies under private contracts;
     
  • as well as research laboratories.   

In half of the cases, we are at the origin of the consortium and manage the project. We are thus regularly called upon to develop our network of academic laboratories that work on themes related to our own, and which are likely to be interesting partners. Consequently, the PhDs we recruit are part of the entourage more or less close to Vibratec:

  • either because they have done a Cifre thesis (we welcome one CIFRE PhD student per year);
     
  • or because they have conducted research (doctorate or postdoctorate) in a laboratory with which we regularly collaborate.
  • Are you recruiting this year?

We plan to recruit one Cifre doctoral candidate per year. It is a good tool that allows the company to be a driving force in the choice of laboratory, a subject and a candidate. A successful Cifre thesis corresponds to the good interweaving of these three elements.

The many collaborative projects we have with university laboratories allow us to recruit PhDs in our network, or in our ecosystem.

PhDs and SMEs with an international reputation: a win-win cooperation

  • What do you think the PhDs at Vibratec are interested in?

The PhDs we welcome wish, first of all, to do research outside public research institutions and university laboratories. They want to make the industrialization of high-level scientific methods a significant step in their careers. They want to do something concrete, and they want to do it for a long time!

What Vibratec offers to some candidates is quite rare, since these are long-term opportunities. We propose them to spend 10 or 15 years leading projects, developing skills and broadening the range of machines and scientific problems they manage, then to be recruited by a client as an expert. In other words, these PhDs' technical progression is recognized by all our customers who are the major players in the mechanical engineering industry, on a European scale.

Sometimes young PhDs arrive in companies, targeting a managerial position 5 years after their recruitment. This is not the what we offer at Vibratec.

As I said, in general, the people we meet for interviews are already part of our network. I therefore, ensure that they have understood our proposal, namely that we are in a kind of in-between, where on the one hand our neurons are strongly shaken as we tackle complex problems, and on the other hand, we have the pleasure of the engineer - or technician - to be able to appreciate the visible result of our technical approach.

  • In your opinion, what are the strengths of PhDs?

Several elements are characteristic of PhDs' profiles:

  • faced with a problem, they have the reflex of bibliography. In other words, they question the different ways in which the problem was posed by their predecessors;
     
  • doctoral training also teaches them to go to the end of the subjects. In contrast to a junior engineer (who has an engineering internship or Master 2 - with a simplified subject, and non-definitive results), the PhD studies his subject from beginning to end, before being evaluated by a jury who finds that the question has been well addressed. The PhD knows how to study entirely a subject;
     
  • a PhD has necessarily published one or more scientific articles, in peer-reviewed journals, whose publication rules are draconian. He/she thus learned to present a technical subject to an uninitiated. It is a know-how specific to PhDs, and extremely useful in companies. PhDs are often more better pedagogues than Masters graduates;
     
  • a PhD knows what a network is. You can't do a thesis without having a network between several labs. A doctoral student is not alone. He collaborates with other researchers in his laboratory, but also with researchers in other laboratories, sometimes internationally.
  • Public-private collaborations and intellectual property?

Currently (August 2019), Vibratec is running 14 collaborative projects in parallel, with 20 laboratories. Half of them are from European projects. For each collaboration, we will look for the laboratory that will help to solve a methodological or instrumentation problem, or that will bring a new innovative approach.

We have developed an understanding of the needs of laboratories. Indeed, the latter have a crucial need for industrial data, yet it is difficult for them to work on raw industrial data. Let's get back to the example of modelling the car in cubes, if I provide a laboratory with the acoustic mapping of a car or a train, it will not be able to use it. It is necessary to transcribe the data.

Another of their difficulties lies in the conflict between the need to publish and the requirements of industrial secrecy. In a collaborative project involving a product under design (a train, a tramway, a car, a turbine, etc.) governed by strict confidentiality agreements, the PhD's role within Vibratec will be to provide data, after this transcription work, as required by the laboratory to advance the methods.

Concerning this question of industrial property, it is more complex to collaborate with large groups. The latter have a higher level of legal competence than SMEs, which do not have such specialised lawyers.

  • Vibratec and mobility?

It is obvious that PhDs at Vibratec can have to travel several weeks anywhere in the world to work with a client. It is an opportunity to discover different worlds, different industrial cultures, within different countries. This is a short-term mobility, but it is intellectually very important.

I am always very surprised when I am confronted with a Master graduate or an engineer, who has not spent at least 6 months in a non-French-speaking country. To pursue a high-level scientific and technical career, without ever having seen anything other than the small franco-French world (or even in some cases, a certain region...) seems complicated to me. Today, the industrial world is at least European, if not global. Never having been confronted for a significant period of time with another industrial culture seems to me to be harmful for a Masters graduate or an engineer. This is even more the case for a PhD.

Beyond the intercultural aspects and the learning of one or more foreign languages, it is essential to understand that in an industrial environment, there are several ways of thinking and that one of the levers of innovation lies in the ability to understand and take advantage of this.

 

Conclusion

I am sorry to see that PhDs are unemployed, 6 months, 1 year after their PhD defense. The doctorate is an extremely rich training, and seeing a PhD only through the prism of his thesis subject is really reductive. Whatever his discipline, the PhD develops great qualities (technical and beyond) and it is a pity that companies do not identify them and do not consider them enriching for their teams. ABG is conveying this message very well. I appreciate its actions. It is more than ever necessary to promote our PhDs, their skills and their value, which are of an excellent level on a global scale.

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