Created in 2006, Sofren is an engineering and consultancy group specialising in energy and industry. With 750 employees and offices located close to its customers, the company has a turnover of 58 million euros. In addition to nuclear power, Sofren is active in other sectors (hydropower and renewable energy), as well as in engineering structures, heavy industry, complex industries and industrial infrastructure in general. Since its creation, Sofren has enjoyed rapid growth, underpinned by a pragmatic and effective development strategy that has led the company to diversify into its core businesses. GIFEN caught up with Fabrice Girard, the company's founder and chairman, and David Sanson, the company's vice-president for nuclear power.
What are Sofren's nuclear activities?
Nuclear power accounts for 45% of Sofren's sales. Our first customer in the industry was AREVA; today we work for all the principals, including EDF, Orano, Framatome and Andra, as well as for the supply chain. We offer three categories of services:
- Design engineering (civil engineering, specialised mechanics, welding, instrumentation and control, general installation);
- project management and procurement, including planning, cost and quality control, and purchasing for our customers' projects;
- finally, we work on site, on new projects (construction, assembly, testing) and existing facilities (extension, modification, inspection, diagnostics, support for the operator and maintenance).
Today, we are seen as a trusted partner that is appreciated by our customers, thanks to our ability to mobilise our teams quickly, but also because of the agility that stems from our three offerings, which enables us to adapt to different levels of contractualisation: for example, on HPC, we are jointly responsible for monitoring reinforcement calculations, formwork and reinforcement plans and the digital mock-up.
Our engineering offices are capable of working on single and multi-trade projects, with a commitment to results. To carry out these projects, Sofren relies on its technical teams and the support of its sales teams and support functions, etc. Some of our branches have engineering offices close to our customers' sites.
The Group's business is currently split almost equally between projects with a commitment to resources and those with a commitment to results. Our ambition is to maintain this proportion while continuing our policy of sustainable, stable growth. These two types of commitment are the Group's strength, thanks to career paths that include specific training and the mentoring of our consultants in our engineering offices.
What's new at Sofren?
There's a lot going on at the moment, in many different areas: first and foremost, we have recently invested in strengthening our digital infrastructure to meet the needs of our customers. Our customers want us to be close to them - which is why we have opened and/or extended local offices, the most recent of which are in Cherbourg, Le Havre, Nantes and Angers - but they also want us to be able to work remotely, within infrastructures that are highly secure from a cyber point of view, known as 'secure sites'. This is a major investment, and one that is essential to boosting our efficiency and our customers' confidence.
Another important issue is obtaining ISO 19443 certification in June 2023, following an audit by AFNOR.
From a commercial point of view, Sofren has recently signed a number of framework contracts, most recently with EDF's nuclear projects department, which enables us to work on all the nuclear power plants in France: we are very proud of this.
The recent launch of our new brand platform is also an important event. Over the last few years, we've been through a health crisis, an energy crisis and the acceleration of climate change. The international geopolitical context has convinced us that the years to come will be very different from those we have just experienced. So we decided to start thinking about the Sofren brand, involving our 750 employees. After more than a year's work, this process led to the creation of a new brand platform and a new logo, implying a commitment to support industrial players as they move towards a safer, low-carbon world.
To recruit, you need not only to have great projects, but also to be known, and to have a great employer brand. Our ambition is to create a genuine candidate experience, not only so that many engineers apply to Sofren, but also so that our employees feel at home with us and want to stay. To help us achieve this, we have recruited a new Talent Director, whose objective is to ensure the best possible career path for the Group's employees.
How do you see yourself in the future, and what are your medium- and long-term prospects?
The outlook is very good, because the nuclear revival now seems to have taken hold in France. This is very important from both a business and a recruitment point of view.
We also intend to continue to develop in the low-carbon energy sector in general. We intend to continue to accelerate our diversification into other sectors, such as rail and port infrastructure, defence, healthcare and, in general, wherever complex systems are involved. Our sector is growing by 10-15% a year, which means Sofren can double in size in 5 years.
Sofren's business is still very much concentrated in France, where there is a high level of activity. However, we are happy to look abroad to support the French nuclear industry's international offerings.
Secondly, as part of our ongoing reflection on our brand platform, we intend to expand Sofren's CSR approach. It's important for us to do our bit and have a lasting, positive impact. For example, our discussions with employees have led us to work towards obtaining the EcoVadis gold label, a very important indicator measuring a company's level of social responsibility. This gave us our foot in the door, and the determination to continue improving.
Finally, Sofren is continuing to evolve so that its ambitions and capabilities can adapt to the challenges posed by the industry, particularly in the new EPR2 constructions. By setting up a specific organisation, Sofren will be able to offer a more relevant partnership in engineering, of course, and even more so in support of construction and operation!