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opinion piece

BLOG – For a sustainable recovery, don’t protect jobs

By Murielle Antille SVP, Head of Government and Industry Affairs, LHH & Member of WEC’s Career Management Group

Published on 16th November 2020

People and sustainability stand at the core of our business at career management. We continuously support companies in living up their responsibility and interest in investing in their people. Upon our experience with workers’ evolving behaviors in challenging times, we help  organizations adapt with short- and long-term effectiveness in mind. And clearly, policy makers have their own role to play in enabling a sustainable recovery. The red thread in our conversations with all stakeholders is that it all boils down to individuals and their relevance on the labor market. In this post, let’s therefore address the people side of (labor market) policies.

The career management sector directly supports more than 2 million workers globally to navigate the complexities of the labour market as they transition between jobs. Our attention goes first and foremost to people and how we enable them to access the work they aspire to while elaborating strategies to boost their employability. “Work” becomes a value that goes beyond a single “job”. It can fulfil aspirations and provide self-confidence and sense of value. This perception has a critical meaning when we think about recovery after the Covid-19 crisis. Focusing on protecting people and their skills – protecting work – will be far more important than protecting jobs.

Protect work

Maintaining work and employment is of critical importance as we build for a sustainable new normal. Work transitions can be considered successful not only when they create the personal space needed to make a change, but also when they are fast and sustainable. Individuals supported by our sector transition at least 50% faster than those who did not receive support. Quickly redeploying those displaced and bridging them to new roles and industries significantly contributes to a fast recovery for businesses and it mitigates the risks once short-time working schemes are ending. Speed of redeployment will also ease the pressure on public employment services and government to support those who will remain unemployed.

Protect employability

However, facilitating and anticipating fluidity of future transition is equally instrumental for a sustainable recovery. In our experience, workers too often only realise the importance of investing in their career when they lose their occupation. Our solutions aim at creating a state that is satisfying for the individuals at short- and mid-term. A worker inclined to go back to a role in the same industry they were in, but which is an occupation at risk of disappearing might seem like a quick win. However, we cannot consider it as a sustainable solution given a high likelihood for the job to become obsolete again. Whether we think of print media specialists, electric meter readers, analogue photography or more current the reconversion from aerospace or life after aviation, enabling them to find their new paths for a sustainable future in a new profession is essential.

Skills-based incentives for sectors or entire countries – as the examples of UK or Germany show – are of critical importance. According to a survey conducted by LHH in 2019, 62% of candidates considered the skills acquired during the career transition programmes as sustainable for their longer-term career (beyond their importance for immediate job search. Labour policies for recovery should shift the focus from maintaining jobs to protecting work whilst creating jobs.

Policies for recovery

As they shape incentives to maintain employment, policy makers should consider two important factors which often compromise the sustainability of recovery policies.

  • First, “what brought workers here is not what will get them there” – According to a recent survey from the Adecco Group, 2/3 of the 8000 respondents indicated they wish for more skilling in digital and soft skills. Additionally, 80% of them put their trust in employers to usher the crisis, more than in any other institution. In order to build an effective ground for a fast and sustainable recovery, policies therefore need to reconcile the need for workers to invest in new skills and the need for employers to cut their costs and balance those with job creation to cover the shortfall of demand for work resulting from the crisis.
  • Second, workers tend to favour short-term security over long-term benefits. A recent study in the UK showed that a third of workers (34%) could not come up with examples of how their skills would apply to another occupation. This led to 56% search jobs in a similar industry even though the sector may be cutting back employment. In a crisis like the one we are experiencing, maintaining individuals in employment without providing them with the skilling necessary to stay relevant creates a risk for those workers to become obsolete once the government’s subsidies end. Policies need to promote career guidance to support workers navigate the labour market and the skilling needs.

If we think of workers as hikers, career coaching is like their map and compass – the instruments motivating them to go on a hike! Skilling is the gear they take on and what they put into their backpack. But you will know – if you are a hiker yourself! – that many hikes don’t start in the middle of a city. You need to travel to the starting point of the trail. Connections to jobs provided by career specialists is just that means of transport to the beginning of a worklife journey. Workers are responsible to complete the hike themselves, but they are properly equipped and guided to the start.

From our work with millions of workers every year, we know that investing in skilling is a must. Our sector has been evolving in the last year or two in that direction and most services providers offer seamless access to up and reskilling as an integral part of career transition. However, skilling alone won’t be as effective if we do not provide those hikers with a map, a GPS and an access to the journey itself.

This will soon be the subject of an upcoming blog… stay tuned.

This post is part of a series of blog contributions by members of the World Employment Confederation’s Career Management group exploring the value added of career management services to people, organisations and society, in particular in a world of work disrupted by the Covid-19 crisis.

WEC’s Career Management group was founded by leading global career management firms LHH, Randstad Risesmart, Right Management and Intoo and keeps expanding to national federations in countries like Belgium and Poland. For more information about WEC’s activities regarding Career Management, visit our dedicated webpage.

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