November 2, 2020

The private employment industry and the future of work – Interview with Annemarie Muntz

Edited by Francesco Nespoli and Sidney Crocker


Annemarie Muntz is currently Managing Director of Group Public Affairs at Randstad Holding. A few days have passed since her term as the president of the World Employment Confederations. We discussed her vision about the future of work with her.




A pandemic is certainly a turning point in human history, but, as you recently pointed out, over the past years, changes in the world of work have already multiplied and the new Coronavirus has only accelerated them. Maybe the question today is not how society can restart its operations, but how society can rethink its life, the value of work and the way we work. From your point of view, which are the role and challenges of labour market intermìdiaries and private employment agencies in what we could call “the new normal”?


The new normal will not be that different from the old normal. We already saw major disruptions on the labour markets. Had lengthy Future of Work debates. Concluded an ILO declaration in 2019. Corona has accelerated existing trends. Some do speak about a double disruption, meaning Corona has doubled the speed of change, predominantly driven by tech. Tech is the major driver of change out there: job destruction and job creation are the result of it. More jobs will be created in the long run, that’s at least my reading of researches conducted. But in the short term indeed it’s more about job loss, certainly in sectors that are heavily hit by Covid-19, such as automotive, hospitaly, retail – makIng the need for reskilling efforts even more evident.


Reskilling is needed also because of another major trend: demographics, at least in our western hemisphere. A well known trend. Scarcity on labour markets will return. Actually is returning already In some countries. Poland for instance. Since the start of the Corona crisis 6 months ago, when there was a moment of near total economic lock down in March/April, Ranstad got 140.000 people back into employment again, taking Health & Safety conditions into account. Complying with new work protocols. Randstad, with Adecco and Manpower has been a major contributor of getting those new Covid-19 proof work protocols in place: The Alliance Safely back to work in the New Normal, which is now continued by WEC.


The current second wave seems to have less impact on employment (up to now), it’s more having a social impact. Which is bad enough. And of course in some sectors it’s still bad employment wise: hospitality, events, tourism – but there’s more work in retail, warehousing (Amazon…!), care. Again: moving people from work to work is so important. Reskilling is the name of the current need. Coupled  with new forms of mobility, such as remote work. Coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ll probably see an hybrid model regarding work at office/home. Certainly under white collar workers, professionals, managers.


Another major need is to really act on achieving equality, diversity & inclusion on the labour markets. Mind the gaps. Some vulnerable groups have fallen through Covid-19 cracks. The pandemic has driven polarisation. Women and young people disproportionally work in sectors that are hit.They need to retrain and move on. We do see some good efforts in practice of which Randstad is a part of the project. Stewardess becoming care workers. Luggage handlers to warehousing. This is why we urgently need to implement a Social innovation agenda. An holistic, integrated reform plan combining decent work, a diversity of work forms, social security for all and reskilling efforts. All to promote decent work and a resilient, agile labour market. A healthy economy.


This crisis is questioning the resistance of one pillar on which Western democracies have been built, that is the separation between public sector and private sector. What are the regulatory conditions in which the Agencies can better fulfill their function in this new time?

This seems to be a rather Italian notion. There are great examples of successful private public partnerships (PPP) on the labour market in a lot of countries. Just recently: Sweden where 80% of activities of the Public Employment Service (PES) will be taken over by the Private Employment Agencies. Whyt? Because the key competence of agencies is placing people in jobs at their clients base. And we are good at it! More now than ever we need the public and private sector to work together. The Swedish example is not unique. But on the whole more cooperation is still needed. On high level this need is fully recognised: by ILO, it is stated in ILO Recommendation 188, alongside Convention 181. WEC and ILO held some good joint seminars on that topic over the past months. It’s also recognised by OECD and WAPES, the international body of PES. But on ground level it doesn’t always really work well, that cooperation between PES and Private Employement Agencies….so what are the barriers? Maybe here ADAPT can play a major role too in embarking on more research. WEC very much values the partnership with ADAPT. Learning from each other, sharing best practices. Stimulating students to open their eyes to the practices of the labour markets. How to improve the functioning.To reflect that in their theses and research. And for the practioners to pick up on that research and put it to practice.


Employment agencies and labour market intermediaries can play a crucial role in the news labour market, literally: they grant that services to the person meet companies’ interests. In Italy at least, many would doubt this is really possible. How would you convince those who are skeptical about that?


Who are skeptical? And why? Are we talking about politicians or business? Business, or to be more precise, the users of agency work, not that much in my view. Nor the agency workers themselves for that matter. Maybe it’s conversative and populist dogma’s surrounding work? The notiton that all people need a lifelong secure job? Security is not about having a job. It’s about having work. And a stable income, also in between jobs. Security is about realising secure transitions from work to work. Security is proactive career guidance. Security is investing in keeping your skills  updated, hard and soft ones. And security is about having proper legal frameworks in place that allow for a diversity of decent work forms combined with adequate social security. That really promote equality, diversity and inclusion. So maybe my advice is: back to the drawing board to reform the labour markets, make them fit for purpose for the 21st century. A lot of labour regulation is still based on issues arising from the 1st industrial revolution.


This year Randstad celebrates 60 years. Could you list two priorities that were on Randstad’s agenda at the time of its foundation and that are now dismissed, and 2 new priorities that are now driving Randstad’s activities? 


It’s still the same priority: place people in decent jobs that fit their and the clients need. In order to serve their needs, you need to know your client and candidate. Interact with society. Secure their trust. Randstad’s ultimate goal is to touch people work lives for the better. And at the same time contribute to well functioning labour markets. Serving all our stakeholders interests simultaneously. That – to know, to serve, to trust and simultaneous promotion of all interests – have been randstad values since the 60-ies. They are still very, very valid. Consistency in values and culture is so important for a company. Having said that, a priority which was on the list when Randstad was founded was ‘governmental recognition’ and ‘appropriate regulation’ regarding temporary agency work. Now a lot of that has been achieved, but certainly not all. When Randstad was founded it just had one business line: temporary agency work. Now we offer  search & selection, outplacement, contracting and outsourcing. So a much broader range of services, reflecting the need for a diversity of services and contracts on the labour market. As for new priorities. A big one is implementation of the tech & touch strategy. Meaning a smart combination HR tech with humans fullfilling the ‘last mile’ in service. For better matching. More fluidity. More personal touch. And more transparancy on labour markets. Futhermore, this helps us in implementing our wish to become career agents for our workers, caring for talent in their total career path. It’s what we call: Human Forward. Supporting people to move from job to job. In a diversity of contracts. Providing guidance. Being pro-active. Indeed more and more people realise that having ‘the one job for life’ is a dogma. We all need to build resilience, be agile. Keep ours skills updated. But again: to do so reform is needed, the social innovation agenda needs to be implemented.


A few days have passed since your term as president of the World Employment Confederations that is the is the voice of the recruitment and employment industry at global level and It brings together 49 national federations. How would you explain to a young student who is passioned about labour market issues why associations in the private employment industry matter?


Associations matter! They represent a sector, an industry as a whole. They can speak, with one, united voice for that industry. They represent united power that wields influence with stakeholders such as governments and policy makers. They will generally listen more to an industry voice than to that of one company…well unless you’re FaceBook maybe… So associations are a very effective instrument to manage and influence the regulatory environment and are useful as well to build the image of an industry. To share knowledge, data, research. That’s why partnering with ADAPT is so important for WEC – So I would say to students if you really want to change labour markets for the better, you need to become part of its structure, of its ecosystem. Associations are an very important part of that larger mechanism, they represent the private sector, the practice, the economy. It’s exciting to influence regulations – knowing you have – from a viewpoint of practitioners, employers and employees – contributed to improving the labour market for the better. That has always given me huge satisfaction.


Annemarie Muntz

Managing Director of Group Public Affairs at Randstad