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Hybrid working, flexible deployment and scarcity: the European labour market post COVID-19

The European labour market has seen its fair share of challenges in the past 12 months – but could the COVID-19 pandemic be described as just a blip on the radar when everything is said and done? One thing is certain: the continent’s future will revolve around hybrid working, flexible deployment and solving scarcity.

Jasper Spanjaart on April 14, 2021 Average reading time: 3 min
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Hybrid working, flexible deployment and scarcity: the European labour market post COVID-19

As meetings and daily tasks were forced to be conducted digitally — it seemed like most infrastructures were finally ready for it. And while hybrid or remote work had been on the up prior to COVID-19, organisations that couldn’t offer flexibility during the pandemic have suffered immensely. Hybrid working has boomed, and rightly so. With the right technology and digital options that now finally allow for it to happen.

“There hasn’t been a time wherein being flexible and being agile was such a necessity.”

In some European countries, however, permanent is still they way to go on the employer side. Rather than taking the risk of an army of freelancers — a large number of countries still opt for relatively little flexible work arrangements. A 2011 Grant Thornton study ranked Greece (26%), Armenia (35%) and Poland (47%) all near the bottom in terms of flexibility. “But I think COVID-19 has taught most of them a valuable lesson”, flex-specialist Wim Davidse said on a European job market podcast. “There hasn’t been a time wherein being flexible and being agile was such a necessity.”

Excelling at flexibility

Flexibility is one area where Europe in particular has excelled. The Netherlands (83%) was named the top country in the world for flexible work arrangements in a World Economic Forum study — with Switzerland (76%), Estonia (75%), Luxembourg (73%) and Finland (73%) rounding off the European top 5. Meanwhile, in its rankings of digital skills, the top 5 consisted solely of European countries.

It wouldn’t be that far-fetched to suggest another crisis could be in the offing in another 5 or 6 years. That’s why it’s so important for organisations to be ready and flexible.”

Those who were flex-resistant before 2020, will undoubtedly look to integrate flexibility and agility into their core business philosophy. “We’ve lived in the years of crises”, Davidse added. “Whether it’s the internet bubble, the post 9/11 crisis, the ’08 crash — or the COVID-19 crisis. It wouldn’t be that far-fetched to suggest another one could be in the offing in another 5 or 6 years. That’s why it’s so important for organisations to be ready and flexible in order to respond to those crises.”

A continent under construction

While most of Europe has nailed a key-part of being future proof — it remains a continent that is very much under construction. According to a McKinsey report, jobs that have always been a part of our lives will disappear — partly due to the pandemic, but also because the writing had long been on the wall. In their report, they found that the jobs that were struggling most due to COVID-19, were already at risk of being eliminated due to automation. Simply put: the pandemic sped up its inevitable demise.

80% of the jobs that are at risk due to automation and COVID-19 were held by people who do not have tertiary degree.

Companies will therefore slowly but steadily be faced with a new, interesting truth: they have to find their way through a shrinking workforce. 80% of the jobs that are at risk due to automation and COVID-19 were held by people who do not have tertiary degree. As a result, it will leave companies scrambling for those who aren’t considered at risk.

Europe: a continent under construction

In just nine years time, the total European workforce is expected to shrink by a total of 13.5 million.

Just Germany, Italy and Poland will combine for a declining workforce of 9 million by 2030. In just nine years time, the total European workforce is expected to shrink by a total of 13.5 million. “This will further enhance the notion that flexibility is a must”, added Geert-Jan Waasdorp, CEO of European job market data analyst firm Intelligence Group.

“With all the added focus on health and family during a time like this — it is more than likely that 45 to 50-year olds will re-evaluate their needs in life”, Waasdorp said. “They see that life can be different and shouldn’t be all about work. As simple as it may sound, having enough time to walk the dog and spend time with friends and family will be a priority for a large number of people. And rather than sticking with their 9-to-5 job, they could opt for less working hours in a flexible arrangement, or as a freelancer.”

‘A blip on the radar’

Talent acquisition teams will have huge voids to fill. Particularly when it comes to attracting younger talent, according to Waasdorp. “Virtual onboarding has proven to be a tough task — cultures are hard to build when everything is done solely online”, he said. “I expect to see a young generation of employees constantly searching for their own identity as well as an employer that they feel suited to. As a result, they’ll be harder to engage and attract than ever before.”

“You should view COVID-19 as a blip on the radar, because we’ll once again be talking about scarcity in six months time.”

Although job market scarcity has not necessarily been the number one issue in the past, pandemic-filled, year — that will likely change. Again. “Before the pandemic struck, there wasn’t a sector wherein you didn’t struggle to find the right personnel”, said Davidse. “You should view COVID-19 as a blip on the radar, because we’ll once again be talking about scarcity in six months time.”

With workforces moving out of large cities en masse — it is unlikely they’ll look to make a U-turn just 18 months later.

With workforces moving out of large cities en masse — it is unlikely they’ll look to make a U-turn just 18 months later. And whether it will be in the form of a 50-50 or a 70-30 split — working outside of the office has had an abundance of real, clear advantages for both employees and employers. Meanwhile, it just might allow for organisations to solve their forthcoming talent crisis — as it opens up flexible, remote roles for those who weren’t able to do full-time work, or come into the office due to responsibilities at home.

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Jasper Spanjaart

Jasper Spanjaart

Writer and editor at ToTalent

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