Tension in the labor market has risen to such an extent that, for the first time in years, there are more vacancies than there are unemployed. In the second quarter of 2021, there were 106 unfilled vacancies for every 100 unemployed, according to the most recent figures from Statistics Netherlands.
Forced to close
So the economy is back to normal. Or not quite as usual: pre-corona there was also a staff shortage, but we rarely saw that some businesses have to close their doors because of it. Yet that is now the reality for bicycle repairman Michel Kruiper, for example. He has four stores: in Tubbergen, Oldenzaal, Denekamp and Almelo.
The latter case is now forced to close. “We can’t get enough staff,” says Kruiper. “As a result, we can no longer keep our heads high, no longer offer the service we wanted. In total I need at least 10 extra people, from mechanics to company managers.”
Despite an extensive search through social media, advertisements in newspapers and various employment agencies, none of those vacancies came up. “Making bicycles is a beautiful craft, there is enough work in it, but apparently young people don’t find it that interesting anymore.”
That is why the staff from the Almelo store has been working in Tubbergen since 1 September.
“They were disappointed about that, yes, but they also understand,” says the bicycle mechanic. “Especially in the workshop, we noticed that we couldn’t get through the work anymore, that people had to work overtime as standard. This gives more peace of mind. And we have a pick-up and delivery service for customers in Almelo, as long as the store is closed.”
The fact that the staff shortage is increasing in all kinds of sectors is not a development that comes out of the blue, says Labor Market Professor Ton Wilthagen of Tilburg University. “It is a long-term trend that has everything to do with the composition of the population. The aging population is increasing: there are more and more elderly people.”
And sooner or later they leave working life. Due to the corona crisis, the staff shortage was not so visible: many businesses were closed, many people worked from home. Now that society is locked up again and the economy is growing so fast, the shortage is back in record time. “We have to deal with that. Don’t accept it, but realize that this is not easy to solve in the short term.”
They know all about that at Mirakel childcare in Amsterdam. “I have a day job of filling roster gaps, looking for staff and, above all, being on the group a lot myself,” says manager Femke Koopman to RTL Z.
‘The rack is out’
“We now have 110 employees, at least 10 should be added,” adds director Mira Quint. “Office workers now go to after-school care to do hand and span services.” Fortunately, she has not had to disappoint her parents yet. “They find it annoying that their child has a different group leader every day,” says Quint. “But they do understand. Slowly but surely the seriousness of the problem is starting to seep in.”
Childcare has enabled the Netherlands to work during the various corona lockdowns, she says. “But the rack is out. We are all fishing in the same pond. A letter is now also being sent to parents if they can come and help on a day off. And they really have to let you know if a child does not come.”
Just like the bicycle repair shop Kruiper, Mirakel tries all kinds of things to attract new staff. “Employees who nominate a new staff member receive a substantial bonus. But there is simply no one,” says Quint.
In addition, the rules in childcare have become considerably stricter in recent years. “Maternity nurses are not allowed to work here, while I would love to have them in a baby group. People who have completed a pedagogical training at HBO level, or who are in possession of an older diploma, teacher training students: they all have to do extra training first . That has to change.”
There are a number of things the government and employers could do – ‘and should do’ – to fill more vacancies, says Wilthagen.
Making part-timers work more
“There are certainly a million more people at home. I call them the ‘unprecedented talent’. They can, in part, work, but they must first be trained, their skills must be brought up to standard.”
Wilthagen also sees opportunities to allow part-timers to work more hours. “If they go from 20-23 hours a week to 28-32 hours, that would also help. But then you have to cultivate enthusiasm. There are also people who now work in so-called shortage sectors. At banks and insurance companies, for example. They could also make a switch – but here too they have to be retrained.”