EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Painters and Plasterers, the Netherlands: Fostering employability


Organisation Size: 
Construction and woodworking
Fostering employability

Painters and plasterers are organised in a sectoral organisation. To make work in the sector more attractive, the branch organisation has initiated projects in four companies on the possibilities of job enlargement. The advantages for companies are more assignments, higher quality, greater flexibility, more efficiency, contented clients and motivated workers. The advantages for workers are a better quality of work, more interesting work and greater employability.

Organisational background

Painters and plasterers, together with similar construction companies, are organised in a branch organisation called Hoofdbedrijfschap Afbouw en Onderhoud (HAO), with 6,200 companies and 10,000 workers. Employer and employee representatives together administrate this organisation. The HAO is supervised by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER). This supervision mainly refers to the creation and discontinuance of the organisation, approval of budget and checking that decisions do not conflict with the law and with the interest of business in general. The branch organisation is concerned with technical innovation, the environment, image of the branch, skills and training. One of the programmes of the HAO is Personeel en Organisatie, or human resources. They support personnel management in the companies.

As usual in this type of work, the workforce of the associated companies is largely male dominated. Among painting companies, only 4% of the workers are female. In other companies, this percentage is even lower. According to the HAO, this is inevitable in most functions due to the physically heavy work. About 50% of the workforce is a member of a trade union. Although the HAO stimulated workers’ participation, employees are not willing to participate in a works council, therefore only a very small percentage of the company members have a works council.

Description of the initiative

In this type of company, there has been a large outflow of personnel (12% yearly). In addition, intake of skilled workers has been relatively low. To make work in the branch more attractive, the HAO has examined the possibilities of job enlargement. In this context, job enlargement means the addition of tasks to a function which makes the job more varied. Painting and plastering companies could benefit from job enlargement to diminish outflow of personnel. Moreover, demands have changed over time. Clients of these companies prefer to deal with one contractor for various jobs. Companies can improve their competitiveness if they can offer an extended package of services. If individual workers could perform various tasks, this would make the company more flexible. The advantage for the workers is more varied work and greater employability, since they have learned different skills and are available for more jobs.

Three types of job enlargement can be distinguished:

  • task broadening – tasks of the same level are added;
  • task enrichment – tasks are added that were previously carried out by executives only, such as planning, quality inspection and management;
  • circulation of tasks – workers carry out different kind of jobs

Four companies started to work with the new concept. TNO Work and Employment supervised the projects and contributed to job design and cost-benefit analysis. The participating companies were a maintenance company (A), a painting company (B), a medium-sized and a small plastering company (C and D). The most appropriate type of job enlargement was examined in each company. Cost-benefit analyses were carried out to examine whether job enlargement was profitable.

In company A, the responsibilities of the project managers were enlarged: an example of task enrichment. In the new situation they are involved in all dimensions of the process: acquisition, tendering, cost estimating, work preparation, realisation, billing and follow-up care. Obviously, the current project managers were not educated for their new tasks and had to be trained. After some years it could be concluded that the costs of training for the project managers were compensated for by more assignments and more efficiency. Project managers have gained greater employability due to their training, which led to a recognised certificate.

Company B needed personnel with other skills, since a change of demands has occurred from the construction of new buildings to maintenance. They decided to train part of their workforce in the house improvement field. In the sector, these skills are clearly defined, as well as the training that leads to a recognised certificate. For the training of painters, companies are qualified for a subsidy from a training fund available for companies in this sector. This training fund receives money from the HAO and is managed by employer and employee representatives. The companies expect to receive more assignments, which will allow them to recoup the costs within one year. The painters will gain more job security, more challenging jobs and greater employability.

One of the specialities of company C was moisture control, a highly specialised job. It was often part of the jobs already carried out as a preparation, but it could be offered as an independent service as well. Only a limited number of workers were able to perform this specialist job. If the complete workforce could handle this task, it would increase the company’s assignments. Therefore, they decided to train the whole workforce in moisture control. There is no official training leading to a certificate for this task. The company had to hire an instructor to train the personnel. Although they received no official certificate, the newly acquired skill of moisture control will enhance the workers’ employability, since they are available for more jobs.

To prevent underutilisation and to establish a stronger position, company D started to work together with two other plastering companies, exchanging personnel. The companies operated in slightly different segments of the market. One did traditional plastering jobs only, one could also do house front insulation and the third one was also involved in the construction of new buildings. They have agreed on fixed charges for the exchange of personnel. The exchange of personnel is an example of circulation of tasks as a kind of job enlargement. Although workers do not attend a course or receive a certificate, their employability will be increased as they acquire work experience in other types of work. The company prevents underutilisation and has increased its chances for assignments.


Companies within the sector were initially somewhat sceptical about the initiative. They expected a rise in labour costs and were not sure if these investments would be worthwhile. Furthermore, there was a possibility that retrained workers would leave the company; after all, they learned more skills, resulting in increased employability. Also, companies were not sure if clients would appreciate these multi-skilled workers. To evaluate the initiative, the HAO has carried out a cost-benefit analysis. The initial scepticism appeared to be unfounded. Workers who received training did not leave the company earlier and profit margins and the number of assignments increased.

Costs for the companies involved mostly consisted of the training of personnel. Some companies had extra costs due to initial loss of production, damage to equipment due to inexperience, costs for a consultant and more administration. Benefits for the company mainly consisted of increased production. Other benefits varied among the companies and consisted of a higher profit margin, shorter waiting lists, faster completion of projects, improved cooperation, higher-quality work and more satisfied customers. For employees, job enlargement had several advantages: a higher variation in their jobs due to a richer task with more responsibilities, and more skills enabling them to perform more tasks and as a result an increased employability. Recognised certificates increased the worker’s chances in the labour market. The initiative also led to higher job satisfaction, increased job security and a better atmosphere.

However, prejudices against job enlargements are still persistent among employers as well as employees. Although the HAO and the unions keep stimulating job enlargement, they have not been very successful in extending the initiative to other companies.

Exemplary and contextual factors

In a sector characterised by small companies, an initiative on job enlargement is exceptional. Small companies often resist the introduction of job enlargement because they doubt that such investments will be profitable for them. They often fear that these activities will lead to an increase in turnover of their better-skilled employees or to demands for higher wages from employees and unions. Nevertheless, the four companies mentioned above have successfully introduced projects towards job enlargement.

Swenneke van den Heuvel , TNO, Hoofdorp

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