Dominique Hermans (Randstad): ‘Labor Must Go Circular Too’

Dominique Hermans (Randstad): ‘Labor Must Go Circular Too’
In her capacity as Chief Executive of Northern Europe at Randstad, Dominique Hermans observes striking parallels in labour market challenges across European nations. ‘There exists a significant gap between supply and demand, and everyone is in search of solutions to this scarcity. We need a broader perspective and a talent-centric approach to redefine the labour market.’

Dominique Hermans has been with Randstad since the beginning of this century, an organization ‘glued to her heart’. Last year she was promoted from CEO The Netherlands to Chief Executive Northern Europe. Recently, she was also assigned the international group strategy portfolio. She knows the challenges of the international labor market like no other. How to deal with structural shortages and the mismatch between supply and demand? A new era requires a new approach. ‘In all parts of the economy we talk about circularity, except when it comes to people. That really needs to change,’ says Hermans, speaking with Bianca den Elsen, Managing Partner of operations consulting firm Valcon.

You spent 22 years now in the labour market, what captivates you about this domain?
‘I was initially trained as an engineer. In my early roles, the focus was often on products and things. I missed the human and societal dimensions. I found that at Randstad. It aligns better with my values. After more than 20 years, I still find it fascinating to observe companies. It is satisfying to participate in devising solutions. Yet, I always notice that the engineer in me never vanished completely. I have an inherent drive to enhance and streamline processes, to challenge the status quo.’

Earlier this year, you raised concerns about the persistent labour market shortages. Why?
‘The problem is genuinely extensive. Europe faces a structural shortage in the labour market, coupled with a pronounced mismatch between supply and demand. At Randstad, we aspire to contribute to solving this issue. Our strategy revolves around this aim. We strive to be a talent-centric organization. The labour market is increasingly defined by talent. Concepts like ‘employer’ and ‘employee’ are outdated. Today, talents ‘offer their work,’ leveraging their skills. We aim to respond to this by understanding the talent’s perspective. We want to guide talents through their journey in the labour market. What can this talent offer today in specific sectors? And, crucially, what are the prospects for the future?’

Could you delineate your approach to addressing these labour market challenges?
‘I firmly believe we need to work on four key fronts: firstly, through skilling and re-skilling, involving education and re-education. Secondly, we must explore the untapped labour potential. Thirdly, I advocate for a cross-border strategy. Lastly, technology has a pivotal role to play.’

Let us delve deeper into this. How do you propose resolving this mismatch?
‘There still is an excessive emphasis on academic qualifications. A diploma essentially signifies a collection of skills. Presently, there are between 350,000 and 400,000 vacancies in the Netherlands. Deconstructing these reveals the specific skills required. Within our data, we can precisely identify the available skills. These skills only partially align with formal qualifications. Take healthcare, for instance. Relying solely on individuals with healthcare-related diplomas cannot meet the high demand. We need a broader outlook, considering individuals not trained as nurses but possessing relevant skills. People from the event sector or those who worked in aviation as hosts or hostesses typically possess a pertinent skill set. They are resilient, skilled at comforting others, and adept at organizing events. Their skills often overlap by around 80 percent with those required in healthcare. Neglecting this potential would be a missed opportunity. Particularly when short courses or training can facilitate a match of up to 90 or 95 percent. Such matches are unattainable through conventional approaches.’

This sounds promising, but I assume Randstad cannot tackle this issue single-handedly. Convincing clients—organizations approaching you—is crucial...
‘Absolutely, collaboration is paramount. We need to collaborate with companies to identify optimal ways to leverage talents’ skills. Long-term thinking is essential. It strikes me as odd that companies make use of someone’s skills and subsequently let them go. We discuss circularity across the entire economy, except where it concerns people. This mindset needs to change. We must adopt an ecosystem perspective, thinking in interconnected chains. To retain talents, companies need to engage with one another and with us. Where can this individual progress to? This prevents talents from migrating to other sectors or regions.’

Do you believe this responsibility rests solely with companies, or does the government also share this burden?
‘I perceive this as a shared responsibility. Initiatives of this nature often succeed when public and private entities collaborate. The government and the corporate sector both have roles to play. Education is equally significant. Presently, education often leads to unemployment. Pursuing one’s passion and choosing a preferred education is commendable. However, education can be offered smartly to better align with labour market needs. For example, integrating pedagogical skills into a music education broadens students’ options and potentially solves future issues. Small adjustments like these can yield significant outcomes.’

You mentioned the ‘untapped potential.’ How can this be harnessed in the labour market?
‘We must consider what people require to sustain their participation in the labour market. For instance, we are engaged in a project with a large logistics firm. They are acutely aware that heavy logistics work is not sustainable throughout a whole career. We are exploring solutions with them. This might lie therein that individuals who currently load and unload transition to become warehouse order pickers in future. Simultaneously, existing order pickers might switch to loading and unloading roles.
Another vital segment concerning ‘untapped potential’ comprises individuals distanced from the labour market. These individuals possess unique skill sets that need to be used. You may just have to put a little more effort and time into it. In this way we managed to secure employment for thousands of these individuals.’

And did they retain this employment?
‘That is a valid concern. Often something does go wrong. I always urge companies to look beyond immediate cycles. To not solely focus on requirements during scarcity but also planning for the post-scarcity scenario. Individuals distanced from the labour market are frequently the first casualties. Hence, I advocate for a circular approach. Engaging in conversations to find relevant subsequent employment collaboratively. Building relationships is essential. Knowing individuals and their talents thoroughly is invaluable.
I recently heard a poignant tale from our team in Austria. They encountered a Syrian refugee who approached Randstad. He faced challenges, including language barriers and cultural unfamiliarity. Ultimately, we managed to have him placed at IKEA in logistics. He progressed to become a team leader and later transitioned to the HR team. Recently, he returned to discuss his next career step, leading to his current role in our HR team. These are meaningful, modest stories that collectively spark significant change.’

This story of the Syrian refugee neatly segues into a somewhat contentious topic: labour migration. You mentioned a cross-border strategy as one of the potential solutions to labour market scarcity...
‘We require specific skills, and these skills exist worldwide. Knowledge migration is subject to regulations, rightly so. However, at times, the process is overly intricate. Solutions often lie abroad, and we need to be more receptive to this. The Netherlands’ appeal as a labour migration destination is diminishing. Consider Polish laborers who once chose the Netherlands for a six-month stint. Nowadays, Denmark is often their preferred choice. We will feel the effects of this shift, and we must respond pragmatically. We will have to piece together the puzzle realistically. We should acquire insight into future needs and who we would be able to attract for these available positions. We have significant ground to cover.’

The labour market is increasingly integrating artificial intelligence (AI). Do you perceive this as a threat or an opportunity?
‘I mainly view it as an opportunity. Although I acknowledge that AI also introduces challenges. The advancements are staggering. AI can assume various tasks. Managing this transition necessitates robust change management. Nevertheless, I predominantly perceive the positive aspects: I believe we can leverage all forms of assistance to counter labour market scarcity. Robotics and AI can redirect people’s focus toward their core competencies. There is no harm in AI shouldering some of a doctor’s administrative duties. Currently, administrative tasks consume approximately one-third of a doctor’s time. AI will make analytical, creative, and social skills’ important competencies. These competencies were perhaps underestimated previously. Individuals lacking the hard skills for IT environments might find opportunities in the future. Let AI handle intricate software coding, allowing the team to delve into the creative aspects of work.’

You recently transitioned from a national to an international role at Randstad. How does the labour market situation in the Netherlands differ from that in other countries?
‘I mostly notice the similarities. We approach these challenges similarly across the countries we operate in. Cultural differences and diverse legislations exist, yet the fundamental labour market challenges are the same in all the countries we operate in. Every single country is looking for solutions to scarcity.’

What long-term objective do you aspire to achieve?
‘In my current role as Chief Executive of Northern Europe, I aim to consolidate forces across borders. Additionally, I aim to contribute to a talent-driven labour market, a labour market which recognizes the individual and where every individual is seen as unique. When someone contacts us, I want them to sense an open door. And to find behind this open door an expansive specialized domain—a house, a village, a whole world of possibilities tailored to their expertise. We must assist talents in realizing their potential fully. At Randstad, we must grasp the broader perspective and align supply and demand.’

Regarding your own talents, what is your envisioned career trajectory?
‘I find immense satisfaction in my role at Randstad. This company truly resonates with me. My position suits me perfectly, focusing on results alongside a significant societal role. I would look for this combination in any position I undertake. Recently, I assumed responsibility for global strategy. It is an exciting role. It will keep me busy for a while. Randstad has a well-defined strategy, but I see it as an interesting challenge to explore the fringes of our strategy, to evaluate global shifts, and how we as organization can expand with these.’

This interview was published in Management Scope 09 2023.

This article was last changed on 24-10-2023