In recent years, the government has grown considerably, becoming one of the largest growers of the Dutch economy, increasing its number of employees by 9% since 2019. This situation represents an increase of approximately 50,000 jobs compared to 2019, to a total of roughly 570,000 government jobs by March 2022.
What is the reason for this growth? According to the UWV, it is mainly due to the increase in the number of government tasks and the financial opportunity to hire more staff. And this situation is affecting almost every branch of the government. For example, the Defense organization grew in personnel thanks to extra financial resources from the government. Also, municipalities have increased their workforce after being given more work and new tasks to perform. Furthermore, replacing civil servants who retire represents a boost in government labour demand. Approximately 27% of employees are over 55, more than in other sectors. After a record number of vacancies in 2022, it is estimated that by 2023, the number will likely increase further.
The government’s financial scope and size depend on economic and political decisions. After the 2008 credit crisis, there was a considerable decrease in the number of government jobs due to reforms and budget cuts for years, which meant fewer vacancies. According to Stef Molleman, labour market advisor at the UWV, this changed in 2016, when municipalities, provinces and water boards started receiving larger budgets and new tasks due to changes in the care sector, the energy transition and climate change, as well as challenges like the Covid crisis, which increased employment.
Professions that require at least a higher education level have grown significantly. Many jobs require HBO level at minimum, particularly as work in government has become more complex, and therefore the need for highly educated staff is rising. “Not only are jobs being created, existing positions are also changing in terms of content and becoming more comprehensive, requiring more and different knowledge and skills. Causes of this include digitization or changed laws and regulations, but also newly assigned tasks for positions,” says Stef Molleman, labour market specialist at UWV.
Which vacancies are there to fill? The majority of openings consist of ICT professionals, policy advisers, spatial planning specialists, structural engineers, HR specialists, security personnel, lawyers and financial specialists.
Labour market competition
The fact that a higher education level is needed in government means an increase in labour market competition between different business sectors. UWV estimates that for now, and in the coming years, the government must compete with other market sectors to bring in new talent with professions that are scarce nationally. Molleman says: “It is a pond of specialist professions in which both companies and the government fish.”
The problem of automation
Only in administrative and accounting jobs is the number of vacancies declining. The enemy of administrative and accounting positions has become automation, not by replacement but by increasing productivity. Automating tasks means that the same amount of people can do more, thus decreasing the need to hire more staff in these fields.
Bas ter Weel, general director of SEO Economic Research and professor of economics at the University of Amsterdam, explains this idea further: “You see the same thing in healthcare: every new gadget leads to higher demand. Which wishes do we fulfill and which do we not? That’s what the discussion should be about.” Ter Weel analyses the need to find a new balance when requiring the same number of people to do more tasks. Eventually, this situation could lead to a more significant tightness in the labour market. The peak in the ageing of the Dutch population, which is yet to come, should also be considered – this will further constrain the labour market.
Written by Bárbara Luque Alanis