A sixth sense for new opportunities

  28 May 2021  |    Interview

Werkgeversservicepunt Groot-Amsterdam has one goal: help jobseekers currently relying on benefits to find work. Three game changers in a row mean they have their work cut out. Manager Quinta van Boetzelaer and advisor Tymen van Dijk explain how they approach this challenge.

Just this week, Tymen van Dijk visited one of the affected companies at Schiphol: until a year ago, things were going great, but the pandemic has meant that now they are struggling to keep their head above water and need to let go of three quarters of their employees. Tymen is an advisor for employers at the Werkgeversservicepunt Groot-Amsterdam (WSP). The WSP is an initiative of the City of Amsterdam, the UWV (the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency) and other parties, and aims to bring together jobseekers and employers from the region. The goal: helping jobseekers find work. His role includes assisting companies to, for example, find out if there are available subsidies.

Why is digitalisation your first game changer?
Tymen: “Because of the way it’s taken off. More and more processes are being automated. Where the production line was once a huge step forward, we now have many companies where robots do the entire process of order picking. This means there is a shift in the role of the staff: employees become operators rather than warehouse workers. And that requires a different skill set, more IT skills, for example.”

And in what way is that a game changer for you?
Quinta: “We’re dealing with the fallout of digitalisation. Take aircraft handling: it’s increasingly automated. The luggage belt, the clearing of goods… it’s all done digitally. A part of the staff can’t catch up with these developments. We need to create new opportunities or utilise existing ones for these people.”
Tymen: “And this is where we come in. In a number of sectors there’s still a labour shortage. Companies have an interest in investing in training to get good staff. And the government is willing to pay them subsidies if they employ jobseekers who stop relying on benefits as a result. These are opportunities that we utilise for people in the region.”

The second game changer you name is Brexit. Tell me more!
Tymen: “Now that Britain is no longer a member of the European customs union, many more goods have to be cleared at customs. As a result, lots of people are needed in a relatively short timeframe. WSP has been involved in this: we introduced suitable people to the customs authorities, many of whom are now going to get trained in the coming months.”

And the coronavirus pandemic – has that been such a game changer, too?
Tymen: “Yes, very much so! In early March 2020 I organised a job fair at Schiphol. A useful and much needed event: all sectors that are represented at Schiphol were dealing with labour shortages. We had record numbers of visitors from the employer side. But after lockdown began on 15 March, everything changed. Logistics and aviation companies suddenly needed to start letting people go.”
Quinta: “The number of employment opportunities has declined as a result of the huge decrease in passengers. The logistics sector has seen layoffs, too, but elsewhere in the sector there is actually much more work. Once you receive benefits, it can be difficult to enter the job market again, which is why the Regionaal Werkcentrum Groot-Amsterdam (Regional Job Centre Amsterdam Area, RWC) was launched last summer. This is a public-private networking organisation, in which WSP is one of the partners. It focuses on guiding people whose job is in danger as a result of coronavirus restrictions into other work. If there is a surplus of taxi drivers, we can utilise them as couriers. And even KLM ground staff have taken up roles in an e-commerce business.”

What are the biggest challenges you face in the near future?
Tymen: “The demand for flexibility: due to the speed of digitalisation, people can’t stay in the same job forever without continuing to learn and grow. We won’t see decades-long employment at one place as much as we used to. There is a stronger focus on lifelong learning and on guiding people into new work when there is a chance that they may be losing their current jobs.”
Quinta: “WSP works a lot with ‘employers with a warm heart’: companies that focus on inclusivity, that want to ensure everyone who can participate does participate. Unfortunately, those companies too have suffered as a result of the pandemic. We’ve noticed that it has become more difficult to utilise the talents of people who’ve been unemployed for a long time or have particular needs. I definitely see a challenge there, now even more so than before the coronavirus pandemic. There is an online platform called Hallowerk, run by municipalities in the Rijnmond, Haaglanden, Utrecht and Amsterdam regions, which matches jobseekers who receive benefits to available work. They can specify what their skills are and what work they are looking for exactly. If needed, they get help with this from their municipality. This encourages jobseekers’ self-determination and direction, and it gives employers from the region the option to do targeted searches for employees.”

And where do you see opportunities?
Tymen: “In e-commerce. More and more people do their shopping online. Big online supermarkets such as Picnic and Albert Heijn are working with distribution centres at the edge of towns and cities; couriers then deliver the goods to the customers. So we immediately got the idea that people who have lost their jobs in hospitality because of the pandemic can start working as delivery drivers. We have a sixth sense for these sorts of opportunities.”