The Netherlands is grappling with a pressing labor market challenge, as the number of job vacancies exceeds the pool of available job seekers. The situation is expected to worsen in the coming years, according to the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (UWV). To combat the looming crisis, the country must explore all available solutions, including the strategic use of more labor migrants.
Failure to do so could exacerbate the existing labor shortage, leading to consequences that have already been seen. Nathalie van Berkel, a board member at the UWV, says: “We’ve witnessed the consequences of inaction – reduced train services, extended waiting times, and more frequent closures in the hospitality industry.”
Van Berkel also expressed concerns about potential repercussions for critical sectors like the energy transition and housing construction, stating, “These transitions are already facing delays, to say the least, if we fail to address the workforce challenges.”
Unprecedented contraction of the labor market
The Netherlands has historically experienced a growing workforce. However, by the end of this decade, it will face a decline for the first time. The main cause is aging.
The good news is that opportunities exist, but they need to be seized. Van Berkel suggests that one solution lies in technological investments, particularly in roles where human labor is not strictly necessary. Examples include self-checkout systems, already implemented in supermarkets. “By adopting such technology, businesses can operate with fewer staff while preserving job opportunities, such as assisting customers at self-checkout stations and addressing their queries,” she explained.
Another solution involves part-time workers increasing their hours. Research indicates that one in eight part-time workers is open to this possibility. However, this approach requires favorable conditions, including accessible childcare and the ability to work from home.
Van Berkel also advised companies not to focus solely on a candidate’s resume but to consider their skillset. She stressed, “Applicants may not always possess the required experience or qualifications, but if they have the right interpersonal skills, they can undergo the necessary training once employed.”
The sensitive issue of labor migration
Van Berkel further suggests exploring the option of employing more labor migrants from within the European Union. Nevertheless, this approach is politically sensitive. Minister of Social Affairs Karien van Gennip faced significant criticism when she proposed bringing young school leavers from France and Spain to fill job vacancies in the Netherlands. Her proposal was met with resistance, particularly from right-wing parties, as well as the Socialist Party.
Despite the political controversy, the UWV considers this a valuable opportunity that the Netherlands should not overlook. Van Berkel says: “We need every available workforce to address the labor shortage.” She pointed out that the Netherlands faces shortages in sectors where other EU countries have surpluses, such as construction, retail, and childcare.
Van Berkel emphasized the importance of considering labor migration in a broader context. “It is one of the possible solutions that should be explored given the current labor market shortage. Larger employers are already implementing this approach. I must add that it is a political decision, but we cannot afford to avoid the discussion, even regarding labor migration from outside Europe.”
The UWV urges the government and businesses to take proactive steps and develop well-thought-out strategies to address the increasingly severe labor shortage in the Netherlands. The agency also calls for collaboration between policymakers and businesses to collectively address this urgent challenge.