Bridging the skill gap

WBJ asked Alain Dehaze, CEO of The Adecco Group, about the causes of youth unemployment in Poland, despite the record low rates and the challenges the job market will have to face in the future

Interview by Beata Socha

WBJ: Even though unemployment has fallen significantly in most countries over the past five years, youth unemployment is still high. In Poland, it’s around 20 percent despite the country seeing an all-time low unemployment level of some 8 percent. How is that possible?

Alain Dehaze, CEO of The Adecco Group: There are several causes of high youth unemployment. First, the economy. In good times, young people have no problem finding a job, whether part-time or full-time, as the labor market needs talented employees. Polish GDP is growing so this clearly isn’t an issue in Poland. The second indicator has to do with how good a match there is between the skills needed and those available. It is important that the education system and businesses are aligned, as this way we can ensure that students are well placed to enter the labor market once they graduate. I personally think Poland could do a better job in this regard, and may have to train, upskill and reskill young staff lacking the competences needed today.

71 million
the number of young unemployed people globally

High youth unemployment is somewhat difficult to reconcile with the war for talent and the employee’s market that most developed countries are experiencing: why aren’t employers willing to invest in graduates and train them so they have the necessary skills? What is the underlying cause for this mismatch?

The world of work is changing fast and that’s bringing both opportunities and challenges. One of the biggest challenges is, without a doubt, youth unemployment. Young people have been hit worst by the recession on the labor market. Globally, more than 70 million young people are unemployed. At the same time, a whole host of new jobs are being created. It’s estimated that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will end up doing jobs that don’t yet exist. The real challenge is how we bridge that gap and avoid the situation in which employers can’t find skilled workers, while millions of young people are forced to spend the crucial first years of their careers fighting to gain, not just valuable, but any kind of work experience. Fortunately, we’re seeing companies that want to get involved and invest in young people but it’s not job done yet, we’ve still got a long way to go.

“It would be wrong to assume that all young people are digitally savvy by virtue of their age. The digital divide also exists in younger generations”

According to Adecco’s “Young People and Work: Dreams and Readiness” report, most of those polled claim to be optimistic about their future. They are confident they will find a job upon graduation and that they are well equipped to do it. Does reality support their optimism? Are they really well prepared and do they usually find work easily?

It’s great that young people are looking to enter the workforce with such self-confidence, but the findings of the research mask the fact that the talent mismatch is one of the main concerns for employers and recruiters today. Around 4 in 10 employers say they cannot find the right skills, and it’s also something our recruiters witness every day. Many young people looking for a job are highly educated and possess skills and the attitude central to the modern workforce, from multilingualism to willingness to work in an international setting. Yet at the same time, we are also seeing a lot “It would be wrong to assume that all young people are digitally savvy by virtue of their age. The digital divide also exists in younger generations of young people who have fallen through the cracks, outside the system, and it is here that particularly deep pockets of youth unemployment exist. The challenge is to match young people with employers and, if needs be, provide additional training to bridge the skill gap.

of children entering primary school today will end up doing jobs that don’t yet exist

What kind of skills are the most important? The youngest generation, sometimes referred to as “digital natives” is more acquainted with technology than any of the previous generations. Is that an advantage, or perhaps the excessive reliance on social media makes young people more alienated and socially withdrawn in the real world?

Digital skills are in high demand. In fact, most jobs will require digital skills in the future. So-called digital natives will be well-placed to pursue positions where such skills are needed. But it would be wrong to assume that all young people are digitally savvy by virtue of their age. The digital divide also exists in younger generations. The most important skills going ahead will be soft skills. The shelf life of any given skill set is much shorter nowadays, and companies increasingly hire based on soft skills, such as the ability to adapt to different business conditions or the ability to manage conflict and influence peers, rather than hard competencies. So what’s increasingly important is not so much the specific “hard” skills that one has but the soft skills that allow us to adapt as the world of work changes. For instance, automation and robotics are freeing workers to focus on new tasks and responsibilities. Studies also show that soft skills drive the success of both workers and their employers. It’s a win-win situation.

“Keeping the borders closed despite a low birth rate and high social security costs hardly seems like a sustainable strategy”

How long has Adecco organized the CEO for One Month competition? How much can a graduate learn over one month?

CEO for One Month is now in its fourth year. Last year we had more than 54,000 applications, and I expect as many as 100,000 applications this year, as there’s never been this much interest from young people. We plan to offer 49 ambitious candidates the opportunity to shadow The Adecco Group leadership in their country of residence. One of the candidates will then be selected to work for one month with me. The program helps young people increase their employability and career prospects. The feedback we’ve had from them has been very positive, some saying they learned more in one month than they did during their studies, and others stating it was like an MBA.

4 out of 10
employers say they cannot find the right skills on the job market

How are they faring in the job market?

Our alumni have fared extremely well, securing positions with leading international brands. We’ve even snapped up some of them ourselves.

Poland ranked 38th out of 109 countries in Adecco’s latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index. What does it mean for the country over the next 5-10 years?

The answer is in demography. As Polish society gets older and pensions become a bigger burden on the budget, immigration may be the only solution. It’s not really about politics and societal factors. It’s the mathematics of ZUS and social security that counts. In the end, someone has to work while others rest. In my opinion, Poland is becoming an increasingly attractive country and a great place to live. Wise immigration policy could further boost the Polish economy and social wellbeing. Keeping the borders closed despite a low birth rate and high social security costs hardly seems like a sustainable strategy.

The brain drain can also bring positive results to an economy if the people who leave the country eventually come back, bringing back the skills they have learned abroad. But how many actually do come back? According to the report, Poland is a “net exporter” of talent. Will that ever change?

I don’t think anyone can be sure. The latest GUS report indicated that Polish wages are now above €1,000 per month. At the same time, there is great uncertainty around Brexit in the UK, one of the biggest markets for Polish emigrants, so it is possible that coming back home may become an attractive option for many Polish people living abroad. What’s more, Poland has a dynamic IT market, with many fast-growing software houses – and skyrocketing wages in the sector. For some Polish specialists, it may be a better idea to be a coder in Warsaw or Kraków than in London, where there is greater competition for jobs and the cost of living is high.

out of 109 countries was Poland’s rank in Adecco’s latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index

Do you think Brexit will change the balance of power in Poland’s job market?

In my opinion, Brexit is just the tip of the iceberg. With all the buzz around the UK, we can’t lose sight of global politics, with more turmoil around the immigration crisis, the EU and elections in France. It is tempting to seek some easy answers in this complex world, but it is unwise. The best answer is – it depends. Switzerland and Norway have shown that there is no need to be a full-scale member to cooperate with the EU. I can’t imagine there being some sort of great economic and political wall dividing the English Channel, yet the EU might consider showing the rest of the member countries that leaving the Union is a bad idea.

How important is internal migration within a country for the job market?

Poles are not seen as particularly willing to move from one city to another for work. Do you think that will change as the younger generation starts replacing the older ones? I am not really sure. According to the recent Home Broker report, less than 5 percent of Polish people rent a house or a flat. Owning a property significantly reduces mobility. At the same time, it can also be hard to find a place to rent if you move to another city. So to increase mobility we need change in the real estate market, it’s not only about generational changes.

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