“The VIE programme was outside my comfort zone, but that’s the very reason I wanted to do it”

The VIE programme: A kick-start for young graduates
Behind the scenes
13 January 2020

Isabelle Hilaire (24) is passionate about sustainable energy and the environment. She wants to apply her knowledge to help industrial companies use energy as efficiently as they can while reducing harmful emissions as far as possible. Thanks to the VIE programme, her mission is taking shape.

Isabelle is originally from New York but has been living in Paris since the age of nine. She obtained a Master’s in Engineering - specialising in energy and the environment - at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (now part of Sorbonne University, ed.). Isabelle is currently working as an Energy Analyst at Air Liquide in Brussels as part of the VIE programme.

Helium in a cube

“One of my professors asked me if I wanted to gain experience in a company during the final year of my Master’s programme. I was keen on the idea, and then he suggested Air Liquide,” recalls Isabelle. “Shortly after that, I started working in a research department of the company in Paris. I did research on the behaviour of hydrogen in confined spaces and on the influence of natural and mechanical ventilation on such a situation.”

“In practice, I worked with a cube which served as a confined space, and instead of using hydrogen, I used helium, since it has largely the same physical properties as hydrogen but is much safer. The aim of the project was to improve safety and to assess the risks associated with the use of hydrogen in small spaces.”

“It was a great first experience at Air Liquide, and when I heard about the possibilities of the VIE programme, I didn’t need to think about it for long before registering.”

A leap in the dark

Isabelle had never lived away from her parental home before, so it was quite a challenge to suddenly move to a city in another country - Brussels, Belgium - for her career. “Let’s just say that the VIE programme was well outside my comfort zone. But that’s the very reason I absolutely wanted to do it. I wanted to achieve a victory over myself, so to speak.”

“And it succeeded wonderfully. Not only have I fallen in love with Brussels - I adore the friendly atmosphere in the city, and I especially like the Belgian cuisine - but I also feel very comfortable at Air Liquide. I work in the Albi Energy Management Department, where we develop strategies for the energy we purchase to produce our gases. It is my task to help ensure that we can buy that energy at a favourable price. I also give my support in analysing our energy contribution for the sites that produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide and checking whether our current buying and selling strategies are efficient."

Isabelle is also in charge of a project to ensure that all relevant parameters relating to energy within the NWE Albi Department are visualised in real time, leading to faster and more efficient decision-making about energy. At the same time, the extent to which energy costs are passed on to customers is monitored.

Professional and relaxed at the same time

“I work in a team with six other people. As well as myself, there is a second VIE in the team who deals with CO2 issues. The atmosphere here is outstanding in every way, and we regularly go out for a drink together after work. The other colleagues are also friendly and are happy to help with any questions or problems. This makes for a working atmosphere that is both professional and relaxed.”

“The VIE programme has been a great experience for me, and I have learned a lot from it, such as the economic side of energy. It’s a very important aspect in an industrial environment of course, and I now have a clearer understanding of how international events affect energy prices. I have also sharpened my soft skills - especially in the area of communication. I was rather shy and quiet before coming to Brussels, but you’d never guess it now,” Isabelle concludes with a big smile.

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VIE is an acronym for “Volunteer for International Experience”, a programme for young graduates set up by the French Government. It aims to encourage French companies to develop their activities abroad while also giving graduates the opportunity to pursue an international career. Read more about it here.