Temporary work agencies, Belgium: Recruitment of older workers
In the past decade, different initiatives have been introduced by a number of temporary work agencies in Belgium, aimed at the recruitment of older workers. Such initiatives have been in response to the scarcity of older workers (aged 45 years and over) engaging in temporary work. In 1995, for example, only 5% of all candidates registered with such agencies were older workers. The few older candidates that were registered were generally found in the higher qualified segments of temporary work, e.g. book-keeping, HR management, and engineering. In 2004, almost half of all temporary workers were younger than 26 years of age.
Several explanations have been attributed to the reason why older jobseekers have not been attracted to temporary work. For one, the youthful image of the temporary work agency sector did not appeal to many older jobseekers. Temporary work was also often regarded as an initial springboard for young, inexperienced school-leavers towards a permanent contract. As a result, older jobseekers did not think that they would be successful in applying for such jobs.
In 2004, Federgon – the coordinating organisation of temporary work agencies in Belgium – carried out an investigation into the motives and reasons why some older workers choose temporary work as a form of employment. The study pinpointed the most important reasons as: job satisfaction, financial need and the need for social contact. However, two-thirds of older temporary workers said they were interested in getting a permanent contract. Some 50% of older temporary workers find a permanent job after finishing a temporary contract.
In more recent years, the number of older temporary workers appears to be rising. In 2004, for example, 8.1% of all temporary workers were aged 45 years or over, compared with only 5.7% in 1998.
The original initiative
The temporary work agency sector identified two different target groups within the older job seeker category (aged 45 years and over). The first group consists of highly-skilled and experienced workers who do not tend to approach temporary work agencies of their own accord. The second group consists of lower-skilled job seekers who are no longer able to find a new job on their own.
A number of agencies in the sector concluded that a different approach for these two groups was appropriate. One temporary agency – Gregg – introduced an information campaign for its own staff aimed at the recruitment of highly-skilled older workers. The agency also launched a campaign geared towards employers and towards older (unemployed) management staff. The campaigns promoted the message that older employees have valuable professional and general experience and are often very flexible employees.
For the lower-skilled target group, different actions were considered: an awareness campaign aimed at recruiting older candidates and an offer of training and retraining for older candidates. Interestingly, at the time, there was a negative reaction to the proposal to set up a specific temporary work agency for those aged 45 years and over. It was feared that this would have too stigmatising an effect on the target group and that it would not be good for customer relations if only older candidates were available.
Development of the initiative
The temporary work agency, Gregg, has since merged with Vedior. In April 2005, Vedior introduced a campaign targeting older candidates to work as temporary workers, called the ‘senior careers’ project. On the company’s website and in advertisements, older workers are encouraged to register with the agency as temporary workers. The value of their experience is emphasised. A consultant is employed specifically to visit different companies and potential clients. The goal of the ‘senior careers’ project is to help increase the number of vacancies for candidates aged in their 50s; the consultant emphasises the added value of older temporary workers and allays different prejudices against older workers. Vedior has decided, however, not to open a specific office for older temporary workers.
Another temporary work agency, Randstad interim, has been actively involved in running the Paradox project (2002–2004). The goal of this project was to increase the employment rate among non-nationals and among people over 45 years of age. Information was provided to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to show them the benefits of recruiting from these groups. A demand-oriented methodology was developed and distributed. The tasks of the Paradox consultants were the following: to convince SMEs of the quality of non-nationals and over 45-year-old employees; to look out for vacancies and match the job requirements with the jobseekers; to provide special guidance to employers and to their new employee(s); and to organise training if necessary. The project ended in 2004 but the methodology is still available.
Creyf’s interim, together with the agency T-interim, has developed a successful in-house agency for the recruitment of older temporary workers in Daikin Ostend. In 2002, T-interim – the temporary work agency of the public employment office in the Flanders region – introduced ‘Office 45+’, a specialised division for the recruitment of older temporary workers.
Good practice today
T-interim has the motto ‘exclusive for everybody’, meaning that it prides itself on adopting an individual approach for all people, including the underprivileged and other risk groups. Its initiatives in this area include the ‘Instant A-office’ project for young, low-skilled unemployed people and the 50+ project.
The 50+ project aims to reintegrate older unemployed people into the labour market through temporary work, ensuring a win-win situation for the older candidates and for the company that employs the candidate. Part of this project involved the creation of an in-house temporary employment agency for people aged 50 years and over in Daikin.
In Hasselt, T-interim also introduced the Office 45+ division. Prior to this, T-interim conducted a survey among candidate employers and employees. The results of the survey revealed that many companies were interested in hiring older (temporary) employees because of their knowledge and experience, and that some older candidates were also interested in temporary work. As a result, T-interim opened a specialised division in 2002, aimed at recruiting people aged 45 years and older. T-interim wants to be the link between these older candidates and the companies that employ them.
Another finding of T-interim’s survey was that, although employers were interested in hiring older workers, they feared that the financial costs in doing so would be higher. In response, Office 45+ began to focus on allaying these fears. Office 45+ promotes the ACTIVA plan, through which employers can receive government subsidies when they hire older employees. Office 45+ consultants also emphasise the added value of older workers’ knowledge, experience and flexibility. Since 2002, the number of vacancies for older temporary workers has continuously grown. Once the financial barriers are removed, companies seldom object to the employment of older employees. The experience is that temporary contracts for older workers are also often transformed into permanent contracts (as is the case for younger employees).
On average, 40–45 older temporary employees are placed in work each day. It was reported that the average age of the candidates was in the mid-50s. Most candidates have proved to be capable and experienced workers (blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, managers), taking on roles as technicians or in sales, marketing, HR management, information technology, and logistics. Most candidates were unemployed because of restructuring or lost their job because they became too expensive to employ. The experience is that they are a motivated group of people, who are still very active but who miss the social contact of work. They are also very flexible and do not always expect a job of the same level as their previous job. In addition, it is noted that older temporary workers do not find it as difficult to switch jobs as their younger colleagues.
The Office 45+ division did not have to advertise extensively to attract sufficient older candidates. T-interim developed a webpage where details of Office 45+ were outlined. The media also picked up on the initiative and helped to attract some publicity. Word-of-mouth did the rest.
The most important lesson that T-interim has learnt from this initiative is that the target group needs a specific approach as well as a separate temporary agency (contradicting what was concluded 10 years ago). Because of the young image that the temporary sector tends to have, older candidates can feel embarrassed about approaching a temporary agency for work. Therefore, a separate office has been established and older candidates are interviewed by a consultant of their own age. Unlike younger candidates, the older candidates are not tested, but are instead asked about their experience. Due to this unique approach, the candidates feel more respected and their fears of approaching a temporary agency for work are diminished.
Contact person: Paula Mertens, Office 45+ consultant; T-interim company website: http://www.t-interim.be
The solution for 45+: Working as temporary workers: http://www.trends.be
The paradox project: http:///www.ideaconsult.be
Vedior website: http://www.vedior.be
Randstad webite: http://www.randstad.be
Federgon website: http://www.federgon.be
Temporary work 2004, Federgon 2004.
Peeters, A., and Pelt A. van, 45+ as temporary workers, Federgon, Brussels, 2004.