WEC Dutch member, ABU, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Director, Jurriën Koops discusses the labour market situation in the Netherlands.
Q: What are the main challenges and opportunities currently facing the Dutch labour market?
A: There are a number of major influences at play in the labour market right now – from demographics and technological advances through to political and economic realities.
First up is demographics. We are all living longer and are going to need to work and stay active for longer in the future. Our labour markets and employment policies will need to adapt accordingly. Our working population is also contracting due to our ageing society and we will start to face a scarcity of labour in the years ahead. We are going to have to create the best functioning labour market in the world in order to overcome this – one that can move people from job to job swiftly and smoothly, while also maintaining welfare systems at a strong level.
The Netherlands also faces a significant labour market mismatch – particularly in the areas of digitalisation and technologies. As the digital revolution progresses we will witness a fall in administrative roles and a rise in work linked to IT and technology.
Next comes the fact that our labour market is not longer in balance. The opposing needs of flexible and inflexible work have resulted in our job market pulling in two different directions. Modern economies have a growing need for flexibility and in many ways the Netherlands has taken a lead in embracing flexible working solutions. Currently, some 35 per cent of our workforce has a non-standard contract. This is certainly the way of the future, but we must ensure that this doesn’t leave workers exposed. The Netherlands has one million self-employed people in a working population of some 10.5 million and these people often find themselves in a vulnerable situation with inadequate access to social protections and safety nets.
In sum, we have an urgent need to restore balance in our labour market. Labour markets were a key policy issue in our general election in March and ABU has been actively engaged in advocating for labour market policies that address these economic, demographic and technological challenges.
Q: What Is the outlook for flexible staffing? How do you see the industry’s role evolving in both the short and longer term?
A: The outlook for flexible staffing is very rosy. It presents a significant opportunity for our industry. Labour markets of the future will experience an increasing number of transitions as people move in and out of jobs and sectors more rapidly. These are being driven by many of the elements I have already outlined: demographics, IT, and the rise and fall in the fortunes of different economic sectors. This trend has been building for several years and has been further accelerated by the Covid crisis.
Rising labour market transitions mean an increasing role for intermediaries in smoothing and facilitating the process. Our industry has strong experience in supporting successful transitions and ensuring that people remain in work. Many agency workers lost their jobs at the start of the Covid crisis as work in entertainment and hospitality dried up. Fast forward just eight months and they are all back in work as our industry has transitioned them into high-growth sectors such as healthcare and logistics.
While this is all good news, ABU is also focusing on a number of areas to enable our members to fully seize the opportunity that flexibility presents. In particular, we are working to ensure that our sector, and agency work, are well understood. Agency work is currently criticised more than ever before – in part because of its role in the wider discussion around flexibility – but also because not all players uphold the best standards or abide by the regulations. It is not necessary to have a licence in order to set up a staffing agency in the Netherlands, so unscrupulous agencies can harm our business and our members.
We need better regulation and enforcement to safeguard the agency work sector and keep it relevant in the future. We need to work with our government to bring more added value to agency work and demonstrate the benefits it can deliver to workers, user companies and labour markets as a whole in balancing flexibility and security.
Q: WEC is promoting social innovation as a way to accommodate new challenges. What does this mean in the Dutch market and how has that changed with the Covid crisis?
A: Social innovation is needed to align workers’ rights and protections with today’s work realities. Our government needs to accept that open labour markets are here to stay. The Covid crisis has heightened the need for agility and flexibility. People want to work differently than their parents and grandparents did, so instead of trying to put the genie back in the bottle and structure labour markets to fit a mid-20th century social security model, the Netherlands needs to move forward and create a social system that acknowledges that open labour markets are the future. We need a benefits system that can be accessed by everyone – regardless of their work situation or contract.
The fact that the Netherlands has a shrinking workforce means that we need as many of our population as possible to work full-time. We are also going to need it to function perfectly and for people to work smarter and more productively. Similarly, if we want to attract migrant workers to pick up the shortfall then we need to make our labour market as attractive as possible and offer good housing, good labour and decent social benefits to people.
Q: How prepared is the Netherlands for the post-Covid world of work and what action is ABU taking to supports its members and their client companies and workers to lead in the new normal?
A: Our members have their ear to the labour market. They feel it, know it and react to it. They will have a key role to play in the new normal and we are taking a number of initiatives to help position them. Firstly, by providing knowledge. We are undertaking research into the Labour Markets of 2030 to provide members with insights into what the world of work will look like ten years from now.
Advocacy is important too, and ABU is working to ensure that the labour markets of the future are regulated in the right way. Next, we are providing an open and supportive network that allows members to meet, discuss and share knowledge and experience with peers.
Finally, we are offering excellent quality standards to ensure that ABU members are operating at the very highest level. I like to think of ourselves as the Champions League of the Netherlands workplace.
As we exit the Covid pandemic our members will have an increasing role in supporting companies in managing their workforce needs. Many businesses are now grappling with remote workforces or moving to a hybrid system and I am convinced that our industry has a vital part to play in providing workforce management solutions that will help workers and companies to thrive in the new normal.