opinion: "mission accomplished!" - Herman Nijns

Working until I'm 70? Yes. Well then why not continue 'till I'm 80? Please understand, I of course have plenty of empathy for people unable to work that long because their profession will simply not allow for it. As a student I worked as a roofer. That sort of hard physical graft is impossible your whole life long. But there are alternatives. Personally I’m energised by my extremely varied career at Randstad. After thirty years, I still feel my job delivers a positive contribution to society. And this is exactly one of the personal objectives that the current millennials also seem to value considerably.

“Change does not constitute a threat. On the contrary, it presents opportunities”

Proof that the pattern of requirements and expectations across the generations has changed little. The Y-generation is also looking for stability, an excellent working atmosphere, good pay… And who wouldn't want a meaningful job with real content? A conclusion that also reinforces my conviction that we should have little fear for the future. No fear of ‘flexibilisation’, or digitisation… By focusing on the longer term trends I refuse to follow the 'flavour of the month'. So, is there scarcity at the current labour market? Well, yes there is. But there was also scarcity in 2000 and in 2007. Surplus and shortage continuously alternate. However, the undercurrent remains constant: talent is and always will be inherent within our society. But we do need to treat this talent with a little more flexibility. And by 'we' here I mean both the employer and the employee. It's for the employee to align his requirements and values with the company's need for increasing versatility. And it's up to the CEO to allow his staff the space to do this. That's not so earth-shatteringly different, is it? After all, employers have always adapted to the expectations of the available talent across the global spectrum, and vice versa…

 

activities are becoming more independent, with little effect on job status

I'm posing the question, because I've established for instance that the relationship between flexible/fixed contracts over the decades has remained remarkably stable. Research has clearly quashed the notion that freelance workers threaten the position of people in permanent jobs. Workers indeed wish to have more freedom, autonomy and the ability to decide when they work. So to cut to the chase: activities are becoming more independent, with little effect on job status.  The same logic applies to digitisation. I simply do not believe that automation or robotics will destroy the majority of jobs overnight. Impossible! A job will not disappear, it will evolve. Certain tasks within the scope of a job will become digitised, but other tasks will remain people driven. More than ever, this evolution demands a lifelong readiness to continue learning.

People need to be prepared and open to the notion that in five years time their job will indeed look different. As Randstad CEO what I feel, hear and experience is that it is not the change per se that induces anxiety, but rather the speed at which it occurs. And that’s the real trigger for resistance. As a positive thinker, I feel tasked with the challenge to demonstrate that digitisation is not a threat, but an evolution; one which we as employers and employees together must take careful account of and prepare for well and - indeed - rapidly. And again, this is the clear difference with previous times; we no longer have the luxury of years and years to get used to the changes. At the same time however, I know that provided a company gives its people the right responsibilities and 'empowers' them, these evolutions can be embraced. Also in-house, here at Randstad, we continuously invest in this approach, of course without ever forcing the issue.

 

cultivating a readiness to learn

So in a nutshell, today I'm not worrying about what I'll be doing in fifteen years' time. It is vital that I continue to cultivate my availability and my appetite to move forward and to do so with pleasure. This is every employee's mission, whether freelance or in a company, on a flexible or a fixed contract: cultivate your inquisitiveness and willingness to learn, ensure you step towards the 'unknown' future, positively and with a healthy curiosity. Such an attitude to life will open the doors of opportunity for whatever lies ahead, will instil a real appetite for being part of the exciting things that the next decades will undoubtedly deliver. I’m aware I may be speaking from a privileged position, as I have grown and been involved with a company where a readiness to learn is part of its very DNA. However what truly gives me enormous pleasure is when I sense in staff that they, like me after thirty years, approach their tasks with pleasure, because they have been given the opportunities to learn and grow - and have grasped these chances with both hands.  It shows that our strategy really does create value, that our vision works. If we can share this culture and convey this to others, then I will say without hesitation: 'Mission accomplished!'

Herman Nijns –Randstad Group BeLux CEO