‘Never waste a good crisis’ – Reflections on lessons learned from Covid-19

Pausing in the midst of managing the disruptive effects of a global pandemic on labour markets, WEC members gathered virtually to take stock of the lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis and reflect about the role that the private employment services will play in driving the economic recovery.

Published on 22nd June 2020

For all WEC members, the past months have been incredibly busy handling the immediate consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the various measures adopted to slow down the contagion. Several countries around the world are now moving back to a “new normal” and the private employment services sector will be equally engaged in getting the economy on the road to recovery. But before diving in, WEC members took the time of an online workshop to exchange on the lessons learned across the globe on how the crisis was handled and how the sector can position itself to deliver its full potential.

The good news that came out almost unanimously from the 25 countries represented is that the private employment services sector is increasingly recognized by governments as a solution provider, a real partner to enlist in times of crisis. WEC’s national federations listed several problems that they are solving in their countries:

  • Re-allocating workers to essential sectors: from the Netherlands to the United States, Chile or India, private employment services agencies have shifted displaced workers from sectors hardly hit to sectors in high demand for staff. The sector has also taken care of re-skilling and providing necessary training, including on health and safety, to ensure that essential activities could keep on functioning.
  • Protecting vulnerable workers and preventing informal work: in regions like Latin America or Asia where informality still represents a significant part of employment, jobs provided through private employment services agencies guaranteed displaced workers fair and decent working conditions, as well as adequate social protection. In the Netherlands, labour migrants were particularly looked after, ensuring they keep a job and their living conditions.
  • Ensuring a safe return to work: national federations, like in Poland or France, joined expert groups to advise governments on health and safety protocols to guarantee safe workplaces to return to.
  • Stimulating economic recovery: the private employment services sector also plays a key role beyond the crisis. In Australia, it is estimated that using agency work firms to support displaced workers and businesses in the early stages of economic recovery is likely to stimulate additional production of almost $1 billion over the course of the economic recovery. This has the potential to reduce the impact on the Australian Government’s budget position by almost $200 million over the recovery through reduced Jobseeker payments and increased tax revenues

The exchange among WEC members also revealed some of the key ingredients that helped both companies and federations weather the crisis. First, leverage your network. Many organisations were quick in mobilizing their network, building new alliances across sectors or with public employment services. This was the case in Australia, the Netherlands or Ireland. Several federations also highlighted the renewed interest they saw from their members. In times of crisis, it is good to be able to count on a representative body, both nationally and globally, to get guidance and support. Second, stay connected. Despite the impossibility to meet in person, national federations kept close contacts with their members – whether through a good old phone call or sophisticated online tools – to assess their needs and prioritise their services Third, embrace digitalisation. Many barriers regarding the use of digital services have fallen during the crisis. In India, governments officials joined online conversations with the national federation. In Switzerland, e-signature was implemented to conclude labour contracts more easily.

At the end of the workshop, about 70% of the participants were ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the post-Covid outlook for the private employment services sector. Yet, there are many challenging blocks on the road to recovery but with the right policy framework, the private employment services sector will be a reliable partner. The sector hopes that restrictions on agency work lifted in countries like Italy, Switzerland or Colombia will not be reinstated. This way, the necessary flexibility for both businesses and workers to better cushion the impacts of any future crises and for labour markets to be more resilient will be ensured.

For more insights on how the global recruitment industry will drive positive change in the ‘new normal’, read this post by REC’s Director of Policy and Campaigns, Tom Hadley.

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