social impact meets social innovation

The future of work is now. Today. Over the past years, changes in the world of work have already multiplied. COVID-19 has only accelerated this. Trends already out there have become more prominent, evident and sometimes a bit worrying too.

Volatile and complex economic environments are challenging traditional business models. Similar trends are disrupting the world of work on which COVID-19 is now setting its mark. One can observe three major trends affecting today’s world of work.

digital transformation & remote work

First, the world of work is reinvented by automation, artificial intelligence and all sorts of digital technologies. Jobs are being eliminated as a result of this. But jobs are also being created on account of this. That’s part and parcel of innovation. Always has been. COVID-19 forced many companies to implement automation faster. We do see that process of job elimination accelerating driven by today’s economic crisis, but there’s no reason why the general prediction of more jobs being created than eliminated will not materialize in the longer run.

Furthermore, this year twice as many people were working remotely compared to ever before, and the division between work and home — certainly for office workers, professionals and managers — has been blurred. Permanently. We will not be always working in the same place at the same time anymore. Which means that companies are forced to reinvent their management and leadership attitudes.

What the pandemic has also taught us is how important the human connection is. We need meaningful connections – both live and supported by technology. People will continue to combine work in the office and at home. We are fast forwarding to a hybrid model. Remote talent engagement and innovative steering mechanisms have become hot HR topics virtually overnight in COVID-19 times.

talent supply chain management

The second important trend to note is the impact of globalization on supply chain management. With the diversity of countries, cultures, legislative environments, suppliers, workers and types of work forms ever-increasing, supply chain management will be under even more scrutiny – with stronger attention to risk management, human rights and sustainability. We are moving from a just-in-time economy to a just-in-case society. Businesses need to increasingly focus on ensuring decent and fair working conditions for all forms of work and all workers throughout their supply chains, as well as guaranteeing diversity, inclusion and equality. Quite a challenge, to say the least.

the optimization of global demographics

Demographics is the third global trend. While the aging working population creates concerns in the Western hemisphere, other countries have a growing young population in need of job opportunities. Countries such as India and Nigeria will have an enormous potential of human talent available in the coming decades. The talent mismatch that was there before COVID-19 will re-emerge again, which flags the need for better organized and regulated global virtual work mobility. Transparent mechanisms of fair recruitment, and a joint responsibility for providing fair working conditions and a healthy work environment, will become a must. This is clearly linked to the first two trends.

covid-19 further exposes talent gaps

As a result of all these trends, polarization is on the rise. Gaps are becoming visible. Not just between the young and the elderly, but also between workers with lower incomes and higher ones, blue collar versus white collar workers, low and high skilled, and among workers on different types of working arrangements and forms. COVID-19 has made these gaps that already existed more visible. For instance, during this crisis we relied on the physical work of lower skilled, lower paid workers, often with insecure employment relationships. For instance, after packing our digital orders, who drove the packages to our homes to deliver them to us? Automation hasn’t taken over yet in the field of often lower paid personal services, and will not in the near future. Yet another consideration when it comes to providing decent work for all.

At the same time vulnerable workers, such as young persons and women, were often employed in sectors most affected by the crisis, such as personal services, tourism, hospitality, retail and transportation, just to name a few. This flags an increasing need for active labor market policies, along with skilling and reskilling activities, in order to keep employment up. As said, talent mismatch was already there before COVID-19. The right people were not always in the right place geographically, or in the right sector, or workers didn’t have the right hard and/or soft skill sets. As we’re seeing unemployment rising today, reskilling is becoming even more crucial to avoid long-lasting negative effects on labor markets. People need to be able to transition from one role/type of work/employer to another as quickly as possible and ensure ongoing ‘employability.’ We need to implement systems that favor work security over job security. For instance, in the Netherlands, we are training luggage handlers that used to work at airports to work in warehouses, and flight attendants to work in healthcare settings to fight the coronavirus. And there are many more global examples where innovative cross-sectoral training is provided.

creating well functioning labor markets

So, how do we make sure that we steer these developments in such a way that they benefit workers, organizations and society as a whole? That we achieve sustainable well functioning labor markets that provide decent work to all and contribute to economic growth? That’s where social impact meets social innovation.

Let me be blunt: labor markets need labor flexibility and the world is increasingly uncertain. We are and will be in continuous transformation, and businesses need to adapt in order to compete successfully in the just-in-case society. We need a diversity of decent, well regulated work arrangements. Full-time, part-time, contract work, agency work and more.

But we need to get it right. Allowing for a diversity of decent work arrangements contributes to increased employment levels, and thus to a more secure labor market. The COVID-19 economic crisis has shown that current social security safety nets are not future-proof. Overall, workers with stable contracts were well supported, while those on other employment relationships were often out of work and income.

a true social innovation agenda

My vision for a future-proof labor market is to ensure fair working conditions, decent social protection and proactive career guidance, regardless of the type of employment relationship. Or of work form. This is what some rightly call the ‘social innovation’ agenda.

The Social Impact Report of the World Employment Confederation shows that agency workers in the European Union largely receive similar access to social protection benefits in case of unemployment, sickness or pension. It showcases that flexibility and security can go hand in hand. On the other hand, self-employed, workers on a service contract only have full access to unemployment benefits in one-fifth of the countries surveyed. And let’s not forget the millions of workers who are still working in the informal economy; 60% of the global workforce according to the International Labour Organization. They lack social protection. So there’s still work to be done to reach UN Sustainable Development Goal 8 to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.

the role the HR services industry has to play

How do we get there? How do we implement this /social innovation agenda?’ The HR services industry has a clear role to play, as well as that of labor market experts. Globally, on a yearly basis, 2.4 million career and recruitment consultants place more than 50 million people in decent work on a diversity of work and contractual arrangements. But the HR services industry and the private employment agencies can’t implement the social innovation agenda on their own. The silver bullet for a truly sustainable world of work is cooperation. Public, private. Holistic. Integrated. This is a call to all involved to start a conversation on how to best work together to drive the future of work. Workers, employers, trade unions, recruiters, educational institutions, governments, NGOs and more.

Employers should realize that to attract the talent they need, they have to offer different forms of work to suit workers’ needs and to invest in skilling. Educational institutions should connect to businesses to prepare tomorrow’s workforce. Workers and employees should realize the need and responsibility to lifelong learning and development. Trade unions should represent all workers independent of the worker type. And finally governments must adapt regulations and policies to reduce inequalities and enable work security over job security. Labor regulations need to support easy activation and transitions. Public resources need to be used to support people in and out of employment, combining the expertise of both public and private employment services.

The HR industry, and Randstad in particular, are more than ready to play their part. And we hope that we will be joined in our quest for social innovation, and for agile, sustainable and secure labor markets that benefit all.

about the author

Annemarie Muntz

managing director global public affairs at randstad n.v.

Annemarie Muntz is a public affairs and labor market specialist. She is an honorary president of the World Employment Confederation (WEC), which she chaired from 2014-2020. She was president of its European counterpart from 2005 to 2017 and co-chaired the 2018 B20 Employment & Education Taskforce. Annemarie also coordinates the Global Employment Institute (GEI) of the International Bar Association (IBA). Annemarie is an influential lobbyist vis à vis international policymakers, such as ILO, OECD, G20, UN and EU and is a noted professional speaker. Annemarie obtained a Masters of Law in Social and Economic Law at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.