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opinion piece

Notes on the New Normal #8 – Skills, bills and a Davos debrief

We’re a month in 2021 and the mutating health crisis is creating new challenges for employers and policy makers. Recent discussions and data have injected further urgency into pressing issues for the global HR services sector and the wider business community. So what’s new in the so-called New Normal?

Published on 4th February 2021

The mutating health crisis is creating new challenges for employers and policy makers. At the same time, recent Davos discussions (of the virtual kind) and a sleuth of recent survey data have injected further urgency into pressing issues for the global HR services sector and the wider business community. So what are the emerging challenges and opportunities; what’s new in the so-called New Normal?

Employment and reskilling remain top of the agenda

The numbers are grim. Latest ILO data shows that 8.8% of global working hours were lost last year, roughly 255 million full-time jobs – that’s four times more than were lost during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. With policy makers looking for new solutions, the opportunity is there for the global HR services sector to take a lead on areas such as reskilling, transitions and using temporary work as a route back into the labour market. Informing active labour market policies has been a recurring theme of our ‘World Views on the World of Work’ podcast series.

The ‘skills revolution’ was a big part of the #DavosAgenda, with ManpowerGroup CEO Jonas Prising underlining the absolute importance of “purposeful, intentional skills development that prioritizes the inclusion of diverse talent pools”. There is global recognition for the importance of reskilling programmes if employers and individuals are to stay relevant in fast changing economies. In the words of The Adecco Group CEO Alain Dehaze, “We cannot protect all jobs, but we can enhance employability”. One way forward is to learn from ‘best in class’ and to raise awareness of effective approaches in different countries – for example, the ‘professional conversion’ programme showcased at Davos by the Singapore Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo. Looking ahead, the global HR services will play a pivotal role in spreading the word and in working with national governments to implement and scale up reskilling programmes.

Emerging ‘Covid Conundrums’ will impact on workplace safety

As the health crisis evolves, there are a number of emerging COVID19 conundrums for employers. For example, what role should employers and staffing firms play in raising awareness and promoting vaccine take up? What sectors and job roles should be prioritised? Even more sensitive is the following question: Can or should testing (and, further down the line, vaccinations) be made mandatory for staff? There are difficult ethical, legal and practical considerations inherent in all of these live debates. Employers will need help, which is why the core aims of the WEC Safely Back to Work Alliance remain as relevant as ever.

Looking ahead, an ongoing priority is to ensure that any new safety measures cover temporary and contract staff as well as permanent employees. In the words of Prism’ Emploi Director General Isabelle Eynaud-Chevalier, “the crisis has been a good example of how the HR services sector looks after the workers that it places”. Showcasing this contribution to the safety and well-being of individuals will be crucial as we continue to ramp up industry reputation. National federations within WEC membership are making the most of this opportunity to make a real impact on positioning and perceptions.

Stakeholder capitalism can create a new platform

Perhaps the biggest opportunity of all is linked to the broader agenda around ‘responsible capitalism’ and increasing recognition that wider society ends up paying the bill for short-termist and unsustainable business models and practices. This was prominent theme of this year’s Davos discussions, including 61 global businesses committing to the core Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics developed by the International Business Council (IBC). In addition to governance and sustainability, the metrics includes a specific focus on people which can only amplify the voice and influence of ‘people specialists’ within the global HR services sector. And there is another big play here for the sector: The greater the focus on ethics and responsible business practices, the greater the opportunity to recalibrate relationships between providers of staffing and HR services and end-user clients in a way that puts value, quality and compliance ahead of cost as the core consideration.

The need to differentiate on areas other than cost was a big theme of my discussion with House of HR CEO Rika Coppens a few weeks back, with the “quality, expertise and energy of those working within the HR services sector” and the ability to “expand this expertise into new domains such as overseas recruitment and outplacement” at the forefront of the value proposition. As well as developing new solutions to evolving workforce challenges, the work of HR service providers and the focus on doing things the ‘right way’ will play a pivotal role in helping employers demonstrate their ‘stakeholder capitalism’ credentials.

Speaking on one the online Davos sessions, the author and UCL Professor Mariana Mazzucato argued that “COVID19 has highlighted how we can do things differently, but we need to start normalizing it; it can’t just be during a crisis.” Putting purpose at the centre of a circular economy is a fundamental shift; it shines the light not just on what businesses do but on how they do it. This will be a legacy of the crisis. It will also provide a unique platform for repositioning the role and impact of the global HR services sector.

This post is part of a series where we explore the key themes that emerged from the conversations with national federations and corporate leaders within the Alliance Task Force. The series is signed by Tom Hadley, an external advocacy and campaigns consultant and former Director of Policy & Campaigns at the REC, the professional body for the UK’s recruitment and employment industry. He is currently leading the World Employment Confederation’s ‘Alliance Task-force’ project.

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