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Empowered People Control Their Own Career

Fons Leroy, CEO of VDAB (a public employment service in Belgium), talked about how innovation and co-creation has helped strengthen citizens on the labor market. At the Dare Festival Antwerp 2014 he explored what VDAB is doing to empower citizens to be in the driver seat of their own career. Organizations can use a similar approach to empower employees and increase organizational agility.

InfoQ interviewed Fons about innovation and co-creation in the labor market, using competencies, empowering people, and asked him for innovative ideas for talent management.

InfoQ: Can you briefly describe the vision of VDAB and which kinds of services it delivers?

Fons: As a public employment service, we want as many people to work as possible, and we want them to work in a job they like doing and that provides them career opportunities. That's why we act as a 'career conductor' for Flemish citizens, providing them, through our strategic partnerships and our own face-to-face and online services, the space to maximize their own career development. The services we provide are mostly aimed at unemployed persons and employers. In collaboration with our partners, we provide mediation services, counseling actions and vocational training for the unemployed. Our services for employers range from suggesting candidates to organizing job-events, jobdating, ... To really enable citizens and employers to take their career or company to the next level, we provide them with an array of user-friendly and competence-based online career- and vacancy tools.

InfoQ: Can you explain how VDAB deployed innovation and co-creation to help strengthen citizens on the labor market?

Fons: To me, being an innovative CEO means: challenge co-creation, enable empowerment and orchestrate outside-in. The base of our innovation model is a dual approach, two routes to resilience. First, reposition your core business, adapting your current business model to an altered labour market. On the other hand, create a separate, disruptive business to develop the innovations that will become the source of future growth. The key to making both tracks work is to establish a new organisational process we call “capabilities exchange”, through which the parallel efforts can share select resources without changing the mission or operations of either.

Within this innovation model we try to fill in different co-creation roles by looking at our future consumers as promoters, guides, consultants, contributors, idea generators and co-customisers. Because every organisation, including a Public Employment Service, wants to create value. Our value is relevant for labour market consumers when it’s a shared value. As VDAB, the key is to involve our customers, to co-create.

InfoQ: Matching job seekers with vacancies can be done based on competencies in stead of diplomas. What are the advantages of this?

Fons: The main advantage is that it widens the scope of both jobseeker and employer; the jobseeker will receive vacancies for jobs he may never have considered spontaneously, but that match his competencies perfectly or require a (short) extra training the jobseeker may be interested in. In the near future, our online tool will then automatically suggest the most relevant training, the training partners that offer it and planned start dates of the courses. The same benefit applies to employers, since the system will be able to suggest them a whole lot more candidates that are fit for the job, based on their competences. I have a degree in law but I have, on purpose, never been a lawyer or a legal expert, so a matching-system that would only base it's suggestions on my law-degree would be useless to me. And there are many like me!

InfoQ: VDAB aims to power citizens to be in the driver seat of their own career. How is this done?

Fons: Empowerment is probably the most important cornerstones of our vision on the labourmarket. As the saying goes: 'don't give a man a fish for it will only feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime'. All our services are aimed at empowering citizens to think pro-actively about their career and what they really want to do as a job. And about what they need to do to get there. That's why we provide citizens the (online) fishing rods they need and want to use to fish for a new or a more interesting job, or just to look around and see what opportunity comes their way. The 'fishing rods' range from our 'Mijn Loopbaan' online individual competency portfolio with automatic vacancy matching to online counseling, innovative and easy to use Mobile Apps, etc.

InfoQ: Frederic Laloux presented how organizations are adopting innovative ways to manage organizations which help them to to unleash the potential of the people who are working there. Do you think that organizations can use an approach similar to what VDAB is doing to empower employees to control their career?

Fons: It is my firm believe that many organizations are too afraid of the supposed loss of control that's associated with thinking out of the box and letting go of certain (or all) company rituals and customs. There is no better way to improve employee satisfaction and motivation, than to really listen to their concerns and suggestions and to stimulate a company culture in which providing good ideas is systematically rewarded by management, and not the amount of overtime an employee made. The ones you want to foster, are the ones that provide the fresh air within the organisation. Give them a chance to climb up the company ladder, instead of the ones that push the most paper.

InfoQ: Can you give some suggestions for organizations that want to explore innovative ideas for talent management to increase their agility?

Fons: Use your innovation-radar as your sixth sense. Pay attention to people within your organisation who surprise you. Because their ideas make things happening you didn’t plan. Bring them together and give them the freedom to redesign your business from scratch. That’s what we do with our lab new services. Make sure that they involve customers to co-create a shared value. Give them a mandate: not for an ad hoc but for a structural innovation. Don’t lose faith when an experiment doesn’t work out. Let them work on their innovation and co-creation skills, to make sure your organisation acquires these capabilities.

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