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Will Europe suffer similar fate as the US in the age of the passive candidate?

In every previous labour market dynamic we’ve seen, high levels of unemployment have come closely paired with a high number of applicants. Until now, where US-based business are reportedly struggling en masse to attract skilled workers. Will Europe suffer a similar fate?

Jasper Spanjaart on May 10, 2021 Average reading time: 3 min
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Will Europe suffer similar fate as the US in the age of the passive candidate?

You don’t need a New York Times or WSJ subscription to find out about ongoing issues surrounding talent shortages in the United States. But the country’s problems didn’t quite start mid-pandemic, but rather before it. In February 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t had any real impact on everyday lives in much of the US and Europe, Manpower Group published a new report entailing the problems companies had to find skilled workers.

The 69% shortage

The world leader in innovative workforce solutions managed to put a number on it: a staggering 69% of U.S. employees were struggling to find skilled workers. The highest skills shortage in over a decade. It painted a picture where the talent shortage, with ups and downs, shot up 45% in 2019 compared to 2010.

Talent shortages in the U.S. have more than tripled in a decade with 69% of employers struggling to fill positions up from just 14% in 2010, according to a new ManpowerGroup survey.

But in 2019, and indeed much of 2020, the total number applications and openings were somewhat joined at the hip, according to recruiting platform iCIMSwhose services are predominantly used by large companies. But that completely changed towards the business end of 2020, when the country opened up, and thus job openings shot up — but applications remained at a similar level.

The age of the passive candidate

In his newest blog entry, renowned recruiting expert Dr. John Sullivan delves into fourteen pandemic-related factors that are responsible for the lacklustre amount of job applications in the US. When delving into these issues, it’s clear that most of them aren’t solely limited to across the pond. Whether it’s a struggling retail industry, older workers that have other priorities than a job, or upcoming, younger workers that are stressed out, confused — and are therefore delaying their job applications.

Geert-Jan Waasdorp, CEO of European Labour Market data pioneers Intelligence Group, sees a similar scenario playing out on the European mainland. “I think just like what is happening in The US, work habits and good employment are under pressure in Europe”, he says. “Part of it is the additional money that’s simply been printed and handed out— which, in turn, has reduced the urgency for people to seek employment.”

“Whenever the lockdowns eventually surmise in Europe — we’ll face similar issues as currently happening in the US.”

The moral hazard of this is that workers will think they’ll be helped regardless of what type of labour market participation they opt for, Waasdorp says. “Whatever happens, the government will pay the bills”, he adds. “Whenever the lockdowns eventually surmise in Europe — we’ll face similar issues as currently happening in the US. Factory, retail, hospitality jobs won’t be filled, and people will be less keen on 9-to-5-jobs than ever before.”

Whose fault is it anyway?

The talent shortage conundrum in itself is nothing new to Europe — but the COVID-19 pandemic has shed a new light on why it’s an issue. In a 2015 report, Cedefop, one of the EU’s decentralised agencies, identified skill mismatches as the primary reason for why European enterprises struggled to find and attract the right talent. They saw the organisational solution as threefold.

  1. Foster a learning climate in the workforce: ensure everyone feels supported by a large number of learning opportunities.
  2. Support work complexity: allow for workers to use a variety of skills in their daily work routines; don’t let them stick with one thing.
  3. Enable a better work-life balance: with an emphasis on more learning, give workers ample time to recover and focus on their personal lives.

While the report is 6 years old, it still paints a stark reality: if companies don’t do enough to fix skill mismatches — and do so in a way that is primarily beneficial for employees, they may struggle for many more years to come. “In the long term, employees may struggle to adapt to changing circumstances and suffer from greater skills obsolescence”, Cedefop concluded.

‘We’re all living one life’

Offering a flexible, balanced learning environment seems a no-brainer for businesses, but Dr. Sullivan sees several strategy steps TA and recruiting teams can take to attract applicants. We won’t copy the full list, as Dr. Sullivan’s does a better job of explaining each detail. At the forefront of it all, however, is understanding why an applicant thinks the way he or she does — and what is subsequently behind their decision-making process.

The power base has shifted from employer to employee in many cases, so we have to understand what employees, human beings behind our organisations, want.”

The 2020 Manpower Group research saw a whopping five new entries in its top 10 of jobs that were hardest to fill. Among them: IT, engineering, accounting and finance, construction and consumer support professionals. “The power base has shifted from employer to employee in many cases, so we have to understand what employees, human beings behind our organisations, want”, says Becky Frankiewicz, President of Manpower Group North America, in a video.

Where work once stopped whenever you walked out the company’s offices, that clearly is no longer the case, adds Frankiewicz. “Now, we are all living one life”, she says. “Due to technology, we’re all hyperconnected. I can be at work during my child’s baseball game. So the concept of one life requires more flexibility from organisations.”

Adapt or die

“I think recruiters are still operating on the same, old, foundation”, Waasdorp says. “It’s all about pushing for candidates, needing more recruiters in order to do so — and constantly being challenged on the terms of employment. Offering a signing bonus, or even going as far as offering money to take an interview might work in the short-term, but in the long run it’ll only do harm to your organisation.”

“The people are there, but they’re just not willing to go for the old labour conditions.”

Waasdorp names the Dutch Regional Public Health Services (GGD) as the prime example of how Europe is currently suffering — and in an area where you’d least expect it. As part of the vaccine roll-outs, they are in dire need of thousands of workers who can help with the vaccination. But people have to do so for a minimum of 24 hours, which they are unwilling to do. “Why not go for an 8-hour working day, or 12? The people are there, but they’re just not willing to go for the old labour conditions.”

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Jasper Spanjaart

Jasper Spanjaart

Writer and editor at ToTalent

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