HR professionals need to foresee and adapt challenges as new questions will be raised and new answers will be needed to support our organisations, says EAPM president Lucas van Wees.

At 3.4 per cent, Malta currently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe. A first reading would see this as very positive – but in HR matters, what challenges does such a low unemployment rate bring?

This faces every company with major challenges in terms of recruitment, development and retention. Fortunately we do know from research that the economic conditions of employment are not always the most important ones for new hires to accept an employment offer – development opportunities and the perceived connection with the new manager are also important.

Nowadays, the purpose and degrees of freedom in the job are also important factors to apply for a company, most certainly when it concerns millennials.

From a country perspective, it plays out to develop an intelligent approach on demographics, migration policies, child and health care, lifelong learning and how to deal with retirement ages for future pensioners.

Ultimately company strategies are in the heart of the matter. It boils down to questions in sourcing. Should we insource or outsource a service or product portfolio, onshore or offshore, people dependent or less dependent with respect to digitalising and automating employee and customer processes?

In Europe, what are currently the skills in demand – and how is this demand being met?

This varies from country to country but overall we observe a massive need for technical and digital savvy staff. There’s also a huge demand for staff in hospitality, care for elderly, teachers and staff for building projects. In some countries this has led to huge migration – such as from the Baltic states and Poland. In Poland, this has been partly compensated by workers from the Ukraine.

At the higher education, some of Europe’s most attractive countries have benefitted through their education systems. For instance in the Netherlands we’ve seen a huge increase of international students. Once graduated, some of them remain and become part of the Dutch workforce.

What will be the jobs of the future – and how are educational institutions preparing tomorrow’s workforce?

A number of studies have been investigating this and have predicted that around 47 per cent of the current workforce in the US will be impacted by the convergence of major technological developments. Later studies have indicated this will not go that fast – the amount of impacted workers will be less and it varies from country to country depending on its capabilities to deal with social and technological change.

Educational institutions have a major role to play, as we can see in the ongoing debate around lifelong learning

A major challenge will be if the economic distribution of increased productivity will be divided in such a way among people that it will enhance social cohesion and trust in societies. This ‘political’ question will be a huge factor as to what extend people are willing to accept changes, such as in their work and in their workplace.

Educational institutions have a major role to play in this as we can see in the ongoing debate around lifelong learning. Many of them though are conservative and face challenges in updating their curricula to be compliant with current business and technological challenges. The ones who succeed in doing this are seeing a huge amount of students and are able to attract talent and full teaching staff. What seems to be a golden formula is to create smart areas or regions in an intelligent interplay by government, companies and knowledge institutes such as universities and research centres.

The theme for this year’s FHRD conference is ‘HR Transformation: Unravelling the Future’. How would you interpret this theme?

We all work in a certain context dealing with our geographical place in the world. Given this, HR professionals need to play a role in being relevant and credible, while keeping an eye on the impact of their contributions to the future workplace.

Technology, demographics and geopolitical events will have an ongoing impact on shaping and forming the workplace and people management. HR professionals will need to foresee and adapt to these challenges as new questions will be raised and new answers will be needed to support our organisations. Therefore, this perfectly fits with the theme of FHRD’s conference.

What is the role of the European Association for People Management?

The EAPM was established in 1962 and has become the largest confederal umbrella for HR professionals around the globe. So far, we’ve 31 national associations as members representing 250,000 HR professionals all over Europe. We take the perspective from the Council of Europe which has defined Europe as a continent with 47 countries. At this point in time Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic have also requested EAPM membership which will bring our base to 35 members.

As EAPM president I’m also on the WFPMA board, the World Federation of Personal Management Associations. The WFPMA represents 600,000 HR professionals from 90 national associations worldwide. The EAPM organises a European congress every two years. The recent ones were held in Paris in October 2017 and in Bled, Slovenia in Spring 2019. Our 30th EAPM European congress will be in 2021 in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The World HR congress also takes place every two years – the last one was in Chicago in June 2018 with some 25,000 participants, and next one will be in July 2020 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

We believe it’s EAPM’s mission to make a difference in terms of HR. Europe and the HR profession needs a platform in which we can share our national and international best and next practices. Our national associations are also in demand how to further professionalize and communicate their own added value to their members. Finally, Europe has its own perspective on HR and people management, based on its history and unique place in the world. This needs to be voiced in Europe and beyond. All of these are good reasons for EAPM’s existence.

How is the role of the EAPM represented in Malta?

FHRD has been a long-standing member of EAPM. Over the years, we have build strong ties and have established a fruitful relationship. Through EAPM and the WFPMA Malta is connected to a network of 90 HR national associations and can reach out to almost a million HR professional around the globe.

Within EAPM we’ve created and realised a number of initiatives which benefits our national associations and its members. Among others we’ve organised our very first International HR Day on May 20 all over Europe, celebrating the relevance of our HR profession and the importance of people management in a wider context. We’re building a European Framework on HR which can benefit associations who are working with HR certification and standardisation, we’re creating a European speaker database to be launched later this year. We’re conducting European surveys on the state of affairs of our HR profession and conduct a number of webinars for our members on a number of relevant topics. EAPM, WFPMA and IFTDO are about to relaunch an International Journal on Human Resource Development. This journal will focus on practice, policy and research. Currently we’re casting a global advisory and editorial board.

If you want to know more about EAPM, please visit EAPM.org. FHRD represents Malta at the EAPM.

Lucas van Wees is president of the European Association for People Management and member of the Dutch HR Association (NVP). He is a board member of the Dutch Employers Federation, supervisory board member of the NHTV University of Applied Sciences and chairman of the Foundation of the Dutch Magazine on HRM. He has worked for Philips, Shell, KPN in HR, managerial and commercial roles and since 2001 as VP HR commercial and global of KLM, responsible for all worldwide HR matters and particularly involved in the post-merger processes with Air France. In 2016, he became the director HRM of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), the largest university in the Netherlands.