Melek Usta: ‘Looking differently at talent offers opportunities’

Organisations have a hard time getting their vacancies filled. The shortage is bigger than ever. So we have to work on an agile labor market, says Melek Usta. She is a member of our Board and director of executive search and consultancy Colourful People. “Employers are being challenged more than ever to move beyond the traditional vision of the labor market.”

Diversity and inclusion are closely related to the agile education and labor market that you are committed to as a Board member. Tell us more?

“A dynamic society requires an agile education and labor market. Professions and roles are changing at a rapid pace. That’s why we need to look more at skills such as agility, learning potential and curiosity and less at the traditional molds that people have been asked comply with. Especially when looking at complementarity in a team, you can come up with new possibilities when filling a position. In concrete terms, if we all do this, employers will broaden their view on potential candidates.”

And what does such an agile education and labor market yield?

“An agile education and labor market can respond quickly to sudden fluctuations and major changes. Take the corona crisis: two years ago, cultural institutions were locked and the catering industry closed, many people were put on hold. People ended up jobless while there were huge shortages in care, IT, technology and energy. In an agile labor market you can easily have people temporarily work elsewhere, as Dominique Hermans (Randstad) also argued earlier. In an agile market, the education sector and employers work together so they continue to connect well with each other. The theme of ‘lifelong learning’ is becoming increasingly important with the major technical and social changes. Many jobs today will no longer exist in ten years’ time. That means we’ll have to continuously train everyone.”

What is needed to achieve such an education and labor market?

“If we keep looking at people in the traditional way, we’re going to get ourselves in trouble. So we shouldn’t just keep thinking in terms of diplomas, education, age and experience. Knowledge is becoming more widely available and which qualities will really make the difference, also within the context of the team. That is why I advocate for employers taking a broader perspective on the qualities of people, their skills and their drive. But that requires a culture change.”

Many of our readers are also employers. What can they do differently tomorrow to become more agile?

“If you look at talent differently, you will appeal to a larger part of the labor market. Sometimes you’ll also have to take risks by hiring people with a different profile. Precisely the surprising can make you stronger. You’ll have to think carefully about what you need in a role and as a complement to the team. You’ll need a good onboarding program. It helps to involve colleagues from other fields in drawing up the recruitment profile. I recently read an interview with a tax specialist. The man started a company in sustainable energy storage and had no prior knowledge of the energy sector. He says his company’s success also stems from the fact that he was never in the energy sector and therefore comes up with solutions that people in the sector do not see.”

“We also need to be more creative. If all part-timers in care or education would work one or two more hours, we would solve a large part of the shortage in these sectors. But to do this, we as employers have to be flexible and sometimes be willing to accommodate the schedules of employees, who are also caring for their children or the infirm. Smart technology can help us with that.”

We pay a lot of attention to high impact procurement. You are now checking how to also include the human side.

“As director of Colourful People, I have of course been involved with this subject for a long time. I’ve learned — and I try to pass that on to our clients — that you sometimes see more by looking differently. We’ve seen how long it takes women in top positions, but we’re starting to see more and more results there. This was achieved by making a clear choice and by specifically recruiting women for certain positions. But diversity is broader than just gender. As the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, we want to be an inclusive labor market in which everyone counts and participates. Then we must act accordingly. For example, by only filling in new vacancies with groups that are not yet sufficiently visible in your organisation. Or by training people who conduct the selection interviews about their unconscious bias and prejudices. If you want to contribute to an inclusive labor market, you also have to look at your procurement: large organisations spend millions on the procurement of people. As a client you can find something about how those suppliers select their people. Together with a group of Board members, we are now investigating what is already happening. We see that the Participation Act plays a major role. But hardly anything has been arranged for the broader forms of diversity and inclusion. While you can do something about it in tenders. In the United States there are examples of catering tenders that are by definition awarded to companies belonging to female minorities, in order to promote the emancipation and independence of this group. Soon we hope to come up with a number of smart guidelines that companies can use themselves.”

With programs such as TechConnect, House of Skills and TOMAS, we contribute to an agile labor market. Is that sufficient for you?

“The Amsterdam Economic Board certainly makes an important contribution to an agile labor market. I think setting up a skills passport is a great initiative by House of Skills. It ties in with the fact that people are much more than just their education and experience. With TOMAS, education and the labor market will work together better, and TechConnect is also a great program with which we take steps forward in a broader collaboration. What I still find difficult is that we set up many forms of consultation in the Netherlands through which you then have to guide things through. It can sometimes be a hindrance if you have to jump through all kinds of hoops to get something done. So I certainly believe in these kinds of initiatives, but we also have to stay sharp, continue to accelerate, otherwise parties will also withdraw. After all, we’re already short-staffed.”

Check to see what TechConnect, House of Skills and TOMAS can do for your organisation

You have been a member of our Board for two years now. What does that membership bring you?

“I find it interesting that we at the Amsterdam Economic Board join forces with so much knowledge and expertise. Together we discuss urgent themes such as the flexible labor market. As a Board member I am a member of a large network, I learn from the other Board members and I can sometimes refer clients to programs of the Amsterdam Economic Board. In this way, together we accelerate the transition that is necessary for the smart, green and healthy Metropolis of Tomorrow.”

More Board Talk

The interview with Melek Usta is part 17 in the Board Talk series. In this series we talk with Board members about the biggest challenges for the Amsterdam metropolis. A region which offers healthy, sustainable living, responsible digitalisation and meaningful work for everyone. These are also the most important themes for the Amsterdam Economic Board. Read more interviews in the Board Talk series.

11 April 2022

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