Joachim Murat, public sector industry director, EMEA civil government, VMware
They say money makes the world go round. The last 2 years have put that adage to the test with the impacts of the pandemic seemingly making the planet spin on its axis yet, at the same time, causing more damage to the labour market since World War II. We’ve examined this in detail in our latest report, ‘Employment agencies: on the frontline of the economic recovery’.
Problems with a pandemic
According to the report “Employment Outlook 2021” by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), around 22 million people in advanced countries lost their jobs in 2020 due to the pandemic’s impact. Across the EU, unemployment in January 2021 stood at 7.3%, up from 6.6% the year before, with similar figures across the wider Europe, Middle East and Africa region and globally. Bear in mind that these figures have been contained by some of the largest government bailouts in history but we’re reaching a point where the taps are slowly being turned off. In the UK there have been grumblings from businesses that the reduction in furlough and tax reduction do not marry to the timings of the reversal of restrictions. And that’s the problem with a pandemic. It simply will not abide by a strict set of rules or calendar dates.
While the challenge of mass unemployment during the early part of the pandemic has been abated, the next challenge is ensuring employment does not take a further hit before economies can recover. This is because economic recovery will rely on citizens that can not only spend their way out of a crisis, but that can pay taxes to refill finances devastated by the pandemic – both of which require steady employment.
Forefront of the economic agenda
But it is not as simple as creating jobs and filling them. Industries such as hospitality, travel and retail have been completely upended while other sectors, such as online and delivery, have experienced unprecedented and unsustainable growth. The combination of which has skewed the skills and experience required of the workforce to such an extent that many will need to be retrained in order to be employable in a post-COVID market. One of the resounding messages coming out of the pandemic is the need to do things differently – for our mental health, our work/life balance and for the environment. To realise this huge step change, simply pushing people back into their old jobs and routines isn’t going to work.
Delve a little deeper and the workforce demographics will require greater assistance than pre-pandemic. Many believe it is the younger generation that have felt the brunt of this in the short-term with job and opportunity loss and it will be this same group picking up the bill for it. The generation before them had the 2007 financial crash to deal with too so those under 35 have had to manage two sciseminc and catastrophic events when it comes to their career and earnings. If that wasn’t enough, we’ve had Brexit in between leading to, if nothing else, a period of uncertainty when it comes to talent acquisition and corporate decision making. As a result, it has placed the role of employment agencies to the forefront of the economic agenda.
The remnants of an analogue age
These agencies were the ones historically at the coal face of unemployment and, while there is no doubting their value, they are also the last remnants of an analogue age we yearn not to return to. It’s not hard to picture the scene of an office packed with out-of-work people, long queues to complete longer forms, hours of time wasted in meetings, travel and disappointment and with the chance of an enjoyable and rewarding job feeling like a lottery win. This model will not work, it will not scale, and it will not meet the demands of the new job market. The rapid advancements in the private sector have hugely distorted citizen expectations. We’ve been fed on a diet of Amazon, Netflix and food delivery services all redefining speed, transparency and reach. Citizens will not tolerate the practices of a few years ago and this, combined with the macro factors shaping work, are driving a revolution in how people train for, locate and get jobs.
It has created a dichotomy whereby employment agencies need more personal facetime to better understand individual needs – from students entering the market for the first time to company directors that have seen the pandemic tear down their life’s work. Yet there are more people needing these services than ever before and employment agencies are in a position of needing to service more people in less time. Addressing this either means employing more people, which isn’t cost-effective or flexible, or they can automate.
Realising a job-seeker-first future
The impact of automation goes way beyond the ability to serve more people. There are a range of applications that are able to provide employees with frictionless access to the digital tools needed to do their jobs more effectively from any location – something shown to not only improve employee productivity, but to reduce errors, absenteeism and staff turnover. Training of the new staff (which will be required) can also happen in days rather than weeks, while increasing process transparency and reducing workload. Applications can run basic checks, suggest possible matches for roles, alert when job seekers have missed interviews, received feedback, secured or not be chosen for a role. The impacts are great for the would-be employees too. Mobile and web-based services allow job seekers to register, update profiles, job and training histories, search vacancies and courses and put themselves forward, as well as accessing guides on application and interview best practice. Not only does this encourage the job seeker to take responsibility for their job search, it also ensures that when they do speak to a person, the agent knows the steps they have taken and the information they already have.
To deliver on this vision, IT teams need access to agile platforms which allow them to develop and deploy applications quickly. Applications need to be conceived, deployed and iterated upon in days or weeks, not months or years. That requires the right environments and tools to do so effectively. A more agile, consistent approach is also critical in delivering the different applications that citizens and employees need. For the former, there needs to be a user-friendly front-end, with a complete secure back-end collecting data. For the latter, the experience still needs to be user-friendly, but the whole service needs to fit with a work from anywhere approach. Yet in the move to put everything online, connecting people and devices irrespective of location, employment agencies and their IT teams run the risk of opening themselves up to cyber attacks. The return to the office, the rise in job vacancies and the growth in unemployment will create an environment that socially engineered attacks will feed off, with both citizens and employment agency employees potential weak links. Cyber security needs to be front of mind so IT will also need to ensure that every connected element, from front-end web applications to data centres via the network, has the appropriate security.
A workforce to drive future success
If we are to avoid a lost generation to unemployment, if countries are to have a strong, productive workforce that can both build and sustain a growing and increasingly digital economy, and if we are to overcome the disruption of the pandemic, then employment agencies will play a vital role in enabling the new workforce which will drive future success.
To find out how VMware can help with your digital strategy please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or do please download our report ‘Employment agencies: on the frontline of the economic recovery’.