3 considerations for employment agencies during the public health and economic crisis

By and Andreas Gollner | 4 minute read | August 4, 2020

Public employment agencies have a long and proud history supporting unemployed citizens in need – and throughout this history, a lot has changed. Traditionally, agencies have provided financial support to people who have lost their jobs as well as training, upskilling and connections to employers. But as the labor market and careers have become more complex, employment agencies have evolved.

For example, the European Network of Public Employment Services has defined a strategy for their members focusing on career transitions, which results in taking a much more active role in supporting citizens’ multi-faceted careers.1

The next step in the evolution of agencies was emerging before the onset of COVID-19 and the economic crisis. Based on our experience, we believe there was a move towards agencies providing a more active role in supporting and managing the careers of whole groups of citizens as well as serving as key players in economic-growth strategies for various regions and countries.

As employment agencies look to make near- and intermediate-term improvements as well as consider bolder steps in a new direction, in our opinion, we propose to consider three actions:

  1. Define new cohorts
  2. Proactively nudge citizens
  3. Prepare for the future

Define new cohorts: The unemployed population has changed. Understanding the immediate needs, capabilities and future potential of people who are unemployed or underemployed is critical to restarting the economy. Pre-COVID-19, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) came up with a new approach for looking at barriers to employment that was published under the name Faces of Joblessness2. The main outcomes – based on research from a few countries located in the EU – are:

  1. Most unemployed people face not just one but multiple barriers to employment that need to be dealt with (for example, lack of skills, personal challenges or care duties).
  2. Programs designed to fight unemployment usually do not account for different cohorts of unemployed people and their individual barriers.

With the sometimes drastic implications of COVID-19 for whole industries (such as travel), we can predict that different cohorts of unemployed people will arise as the pandemic continues.

Prepare for the future: Employment agencies have recognized the need for innovations and renovations for their onboarding and intake systems. This is a good time to examine agency processes as well as the use of AI and automation to help manage the unprecedented number of citizens looking for work. This preparation should include considering systems that enable engagement at scale to help drive movement into full-time employment. Agencies formerly managing thousands or hundreds of thousands of unemployed people now need to manage millions with fewer staff resources and constrained budgets.

The OECD has published a specific look at what public employment agencies should consider to prepare for the future.

The main recommendations – apart from labor market considerations – are to:

  1. Implement fully functional digital channels to enable outreach and some counseling in a non-face to face way in the future.
  2. Look at how to streamline and even automate benefit applications and processing.

Proactively nudge citizens: Prior to the start of the pandemic, this approach was already emerging in the area of training and skills. Unemployed, underemployed or people seeking new opportunities in the job market will seek chances to reskill. Numerous credible online forums have emerged to help people obtain badges, credentials, certifications and degrees. Citizens have unprecedented access to the tools to reinvent themselves and pivot to new career paths.

Singapore is a good example of a government that’s actively promoting new (mostly digital) skills to increase citizens’ position in the labor market2. In Luxembourg, the public employment agency – ADEM – is a partner for the government in an initiative that supports employers to help digitally up-skill their employees3.

But we expect even bolder steps in the aftermath of COVID-19 and all the challenges that the crisis has brought to the labor market. Looking at how whole industries and regions have been severely affected, it’s likely that:

  1.  Governments and employment agencies will actively reach out to whole cohorts of unemployed citizens with specific efforts geared towards targeting people in industries or companies that were heavily affected and might not easily recover.
  2. Governments and employment agencies will propose a re-skilling path towards different industries that takes into account regional or national priorities for targeted industries and required skill sets – thus not only providing a response to COVID-19-related problems but actively fostering economic recovery plans and strategic workforce initiatives.

As employment and education agencies engage solutions for future uplift and improvement in our communities and nations, it is a prime time to examine the new cohorts that have emerged from this crisis, take action to nudge citizens to prepare for their future, and adjust agency practices to work efficiently and effectively at scale. A new era has begun, and citizens are seeking certainty and direction. Employment and education agencies are in a prime position to provide reassurance and to promote a positive future for our communities and countries.

Learn more about transforming government health and human services.

  1. EU Network of Public Employment Services Strategy to 2020 and beyond” Accessed on July 16, 2020 https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1163&intPageId=3443&langId=en
  2. Immervoll, Herwig “Faces of Joblessness.” OECD. Accessed July 16, 2020. https://www.oecd.org/els/soc/FoJ%20slides_web.pdf
  3. “Skills Future.” Accessed July 16, 2020. https://www.skillsfuture.sg/
  4. “Get ready for future skills.” Le gouvernement de grand-duché de Luxembourg. Accessed July 16, 2020. https://adem.public.lu/en/employeurs/futureskills.html