If the Netherlands is not careful, no one will want to become a teacher, nurse or police officer. That warning is reflected in a new advice from the Social and Economic Council (SER) to the cabinet. The ‘rule of law and drive to account’ in these professions must be curbed quickly, the SER writes. This gives employees more time to do their actual work, job satisfaction increases and the professions become more attractive again.
Employees in the public sector now have to deal with ‘increasing work pressure and decreasing motivation’ and are therefore more likely to drop out. The result: even more workload for those left behind.
The demand for personnel is high everywhere; the labor market is historically tight. There are 133 vacancies for every 100 unemployed. ‘Social’ sectors such as education, care and childcare are among the sectors with the largest shortages. The cabinet therefore requested advice from the SER, which consists of representatives of the business community, trade unions and expert ‘crown members’.
Also read: Shortages in the labor market are growing, the consequences are noticeable in everyday life
Although the SER makes numerous recommendations to tackle the shortage, the advisory council emphasizes above all that it is now time for action. Much has already been “talked, researched and advised,” the council writes. This is also apparent from the advice published on Wednesday: many references are made to previous reports. These advices are “by no means always taken up,” writes the SER. And the policy that is being made is ‘too little focused on the long term’.
But the urgency is great. The problems in the labor market will only get worse, the SER expects. An increasing number of people will retire in the coming years. On the other hand, there are too few young people to take their place in the labor market.
Meanwhile, the demand for labor is increasing. Partly due to the aging population, more and more people are needed in healthcare. “If nothing happens, one in four workers will be working in health care by 2040, compared to one in seven today,” the report said. The SER calls this “unsustainable and unrealistic”.
A bleak future awaits if staff shortages in public services continue, the SER outlines. Think of further increasing waiting lists in healthcare, further declining educational performance, tax returns that are not filed, and overdue lawsuits. In addition, staff shortages threaten the great ambitions of the current cabinet. Because many people are also needed for the energy transition, tackling the nitrogen crisis and building homes. Due to the labor shortage, we cannot ‘do everything we want’, writes the SER. “Choices will have to be made.”
However, smarter work can be done in the public sector. According to the Council, productivity has lagged behind the business community. That does not mean that teachers, nurses or police officers work less hard. However, they are less supported by technological innovations. And that they spend a lot of time on administrative work. The SER calls this not only ‘ineffective’, but also ‘detrimental to job satisfaction’.
Employers do too little to increase job satisfaction. They don’t think hard enough about how to keep the work ‘manageable, attractive and promising’. Directors should take that into consideration, the council says, and invest in good employment practices.
Employers can also benefit from a lot of ‘untapped potential’, according to the SER. For example, the 180,000 Dutch people without a job who, according to statistics agency CBS, want to work, but are not actively looking for a job – for example because they are discouraged after previous rejections. The SER thinks they could be helped better. Public organizations are also still reluctant to hire people with disabilities. They are lagging behind the business world in this area, the advisory council writes, and can set a ‘stronger exemplary role’.
Also read: Always that rejection. These groups do not notice a shortage of personnel
Furthermore, the Netherlands has an above-average number of part-time workers. It is often financially unattractive for them to work more hours. “In some cases, you end up with nothing net,” says SER crown member and economics professor Bas ter Weel. In addition, there are practical obstacles, especially for young parents. “I think you can drop off your child at seven o’clock and pick it up at five o’clock in the Netherlands almost anywhere in the Netherlands,” says Ter Weel.
And then there is the difference between paper and practice. Much of the work is part-time in education. But that is also due to the high workload: teachers usually work many more hours than stated in their contract.
Ter Weel is hopeful that the cabinet will now speed up. The cabinet is investing hundreds of millions in raising healthcare and education salaries. “Something happens – luckily.”
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of May 25, 2022