How will the technical departments fill 60,000 vacancies?

The need is high. The energy transition and the construction of one million homes risk failure due to a lack of technicians. The technical sector associations therefore want to fill 60,000 vacant positions in 10 years with the Technology Attack Plan. How did the industry associations arrive at this plan?

The technical attack plan sounds like a well-founded argument. On 23 pages, the trade associations Techniek Nederland, Koninklijke Metaalunie, the employers’ association WENB, Bouwend Nederland and FME, as well as the business associations VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland give a clear picture of the problems and solutions they see.

And the problems on the labor market are great, according to studies carried out at the request of SEO Economic Research. For example, the number of Dutch people in the labor market has grown by 2 million people in the past 25 years to more than 9.5 million. That growth is leveling off, because in 2030 the labor supply will be more than 9.9 million.

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At the same time, the demand for personnel in the engineering, construction and energy sectors remains high, even now that the Dutch economy is experiencing relatively low growth. This is because there is a high demand for replacement: more workers are flowing out than in. But above all, demand is increasing due to the energy transition and the demand for more housing. By 2030, it is about almost 150,000 extra jobs, an increase of 10% compared to total employment now.

And then there are the ‘qualitative discrepancies’. There are simply too few technicians being trained, especially at MBO-2 and MBO-3 level. The number of vacancies for these technicians grew from 46,000 in 2018 to 72,000 by the end of 2021, while the number of enrollments in technical education at that level fell from 38,000 to 32,000 in the same period. Without a new policy, the shortage in the labor market will remain as great as it is now, the parties conclude.

Double the intake

Good, more Dutch people will therefore have to work with technology: the inflow must be doubled, the outflow (still 70 percent) preferably to zero. It starts with the youth. The technology branches therefore want technology to have a structural place in the educations. The branches want to support this through guest lectures, company visits, technology coaches and by making an effort to train and make 1000 hybrid teachers available.

The parties also suggest addressing people who can hardly be found in technology at the moment: women, people from non-Western backgrounds and people with disabilities. It requires a modern employer, they conclude, where there is more room for, for example, part-time work, and companies become more attractive to the target groups they currently lack.

The main instrument is The Golden Gate. The idea behind it is that the job market is now in such a state of change where skills are aging so quickly that many technically trained people are leaving the sector as a result. For (lateral) participants, this makes it difficult to find a place in the technology.

Golden Gate must accommodate these shifters and (lateral) participants. They will find information, courses and guidance there for a career in technology. Employers find new and old talent there that they can guide to a job in technology. They offer modular, tailored work studies that match the work and life experience of the job seekers.

Labor productivity increases

Of course, vacancies are no longer a problem when they are solved, for example by increasing labor productivity. In the long term, this will solve the shortage of 25,000 vacancies per year. The problem, however, is that productivity in the Netherlands is growing almost no more and at a slower pace than in other Western countries – and has been doing so since 2009.

This indicates that there is room for improvement, just as previously in the construction industry between 2000 and 2018 labor productivity grew per employed by almost 30%. Furthermore, an employee in that sector has relatively few machines if you compare the economic value thereof (11,000 euros) with the value of the machines that an employee in the industry works with (115,000 euros).

The sector associations therefore set themselves the task of increasing labor productivity by 1 percentage point per year. To this end, each sector develops its own plan or gives impetus to an existing programme, such as the Bouwagenda.

However, those plans must in any case be about faster digitalisation, automation and robotisation. Worldwide, the Netherlands is in 13th place with 209 robots per ten thousand employees. Not a bad score of course, but in the past year the Netherlands has dropped two places in that ranking. Then work at the store.

Process and market innovations must also be mentioned in the sector plans. Companies in the same chain must cooperate more and the government must help make programmatic tendering possible, just as construction already works according to the programme. Product innovations must also be included in the plans, so that there is less demand for work due to an adjustment of the design (modular construction, for example).

Skilled workers from countries outside the EU

Despite these good plans, in the short term there will not be enough technical professionals. The sector associations therefore propose to get status holders (refugees with a residence permit) into work and to offer specific and temporary skilled workers outside the EU work, income and housing.

Recipients can get started in the technical sector through retraining programs with on-the-job learning. It’s a tried-and-true plan, because in recent years grid operators have set up a program to train status holders to become electricians. In addition, between 300 and 400 status holders already work in the installation sector.

Labor immigration is a more difficult issue to tackle. Currently, it is only possible to search outside the EU for a specific vacancy and when it is demonstrable that there are no staff to be found within the EU. It can take up to nine months before this can actually be demonstrated. An exception to this is the scheme for highly educated migrants. This ensures smooth and quick admission for people who will earn above a certain salary limit.

The industry organizations also propose to create a specific regulation for the technical sectors; skilled worker scheme. Skilled workers from countries outside the EU can apply if they meet the qualifications. Standards are set in advance about the temporary nature of the arrangement and the guaranteed return.

Employers will have to do something about it. They must provide good working conditions (guarantee a minimum of two months’ salary, provide information in a language the employee can understand, etc.), housing and access to essential services such as a general practitioner. Work will also be done on the recognition of comparable foreign qualifications.

Financing

The sun rises for nothing, so the industry associations, in consultation with the trade unions, have promised to invest 50 million euros annually in the Attack Plan. The government has been asked to double this commitment so that €1 billion will be available for this plan in 10 years.

On receipt of the attack plan, Economy Minister Micky Adriaansens actually agrees to ‘match’ the amount. “Our sustainability goals ensure that we live in a climate-neutral world. We need knowledge for that. And technology plays a very important role in that,” says Adriaansens. She continues: “I think it’s great that employers are now taking responsibility for this. Then it will work.”

Doekle Terpstra, chairman of Techniek Nederland, praises the ground-breaking plan. “With this attack plan, we want to break the administrative deadlock and we want to fill 60,000 vacancies on a structural basis. We want to offer a perspective to everything and everyone, whether they are laterals, starters or seasoned professionals. This is really a groundbreaking plan because we are finally doing this together.”

Maxime Verhagen, chairman of Bouwend Nederland, agrees. “Thanks to the unique collaboration with other technical sectors, we can support our supporters well in solving shortages in the workplace. Together with trade unions, we will further improve uptake and lateral intake and ensure that we retain skilled workers for our sector.”

He continues: “We also help our construction and infrastructure companies to invest in necessary technological innovations and to deploy talent outside the Netherlands. The government can facilitate this through more programmatic tendering and by enabling trials with a skilled system. Together, we will then realize the good ambitions in the housing area and the energy transition.” “The Netherlands comes to a complete standstill when we allow the vacancies to exist,” concludes Terpstra. “And we need all the parties around us, whether it’s education, the trade union movement or the government to make this a reality.” The benevolence of the government gives him confidence. “It is of course fantastic that the cabinet has already indicated in the offer that we are prepared to match the requested 50 million euros.”

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