Job market in crisis: a meeting with CWI Maastricht
March 15, 2004 Leave a Comment
Bad year for DSM”, “Océ axes 175 jobs and moves assembly line to Far East”, “Unemployment figures in Limburg to rise by 15% this year”.
For the Centre for Work and Income (CWI) in Maastricht, where Joost Herben coordinates a team of 35 advisors, such newspaper headlines only mean more work. “It is our task to help job seekers with questions around work and income,” explains Herben.
“We have 9,000 people looking for work registered in our files. One third of those already have a job but are looking for better opportunities. Our main priority is to find jobs for our clients and when this is not possible, we help them apply for unemployment benefits. ”
However, the CWI’s means are limited. “We cannot create jobs nor can we offer training, ” says Herben. “We can only formulate advice. We cannot prevent companies from cutting jobs. But we can inform employees about their legal rights when companies are planning reorganisations.”
Is it easier for job seekers with higher qualifications to find work? “No,” says Herben, “the job offer in Limburg is very low at the moment and out of the 400 to 500 permanent vacancies posted at the CWI, only 10 per cent require a university or a HBO degree. And the number of qualified job seekers has doubled in the past two years, from 750 to 1,500 now.”
In order to prevent these qualified job seekers from entering the welfare system, a new law states that they are to accept any available position, even below their level of education. This means that a young doctor may be expected to work as a waiter or a cleaning worker, if this is the only job he or she can find.
“We have started hearing complaints,” says Herben, “but our task is to try to give our clients the right motivation and the right information about possible consequences. The main risk for them is to loose their social security rights. ”
A recent study conducted by the UM showed that two-thirds of UM graduates leave the region after completing their studies. “Even the broader Meuse-Rhine Euregio does not offer better opportunities,” says John Kerkhoff, Eures (European Employment Services) advisor at CWI Maastricht. “Young graduates are highly motivated and will not hesitate to move to the Dutch Randstad region or to Brussels, or to go transnational… all the way to Norway if that is where the jobs are. ”
But there is no need for pessimism. According to Herben, the future of Limburg lies in the growth and consolidation of the commercial services sector. “Our industry will slowly disappear, because competition from Eastern Europe, Asia and South America is too fierce. But in the meantime, the province has been able to attract big international companies like Mercedes-Benz, Vodaphone, DHL and Sony into the region.”
However, Limburg job seekers may find it difficult to adapt to these new types of employers. “People here have a different mentality. We are used to giving our best from 9 am to 5 pm, from Monday to Friday. But international companies are based on the American model. Employees are sometimes expected to work from 7.30 am until 6 pm or later, sometimes even during weekends, and they get less holidays…, ” acknowledges Herben.
So is this the end of the legendary Limburg “douceur de vivre?” “Oh no,” he reassures, “international companies are well-informed about the kind of people they will find here.” And as for Limburgers, “they will also have to think about what kind of life they want” and compromise a little if necessary.
“Eventually, we will reach some sort of balance,” Herben concludes with a confident smile.
By Sueli Brodin, Crossroads editor
Source: Crossroads print issue, March 2004