12 July 2019

Sharing knowledge about the future of work at the Dutch Railways

Do scientists ask the right questions in their research into the future of work? Is their research in line with the needs of industry and government? Or could these islands bring their expertise even closer together? So we can all together get an even better understanding of where our changing world of work will lead us. With this aim, colleagues from companies (such as Nationale Nederlanden, Careyn, Amphia, Bol.com, SCP, Rabobank, Inhealth, asr, Tata steel, Dutch Flower Group, Manpower Group, De Goudse Verzekeringen), (semi-) government bodies (such as the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, UWV) and scientists from the Future of Work hub of Utrecht University gathered in the Cathedral Tower of the Dutch Railways on Monday 1 July. The NS - partner of the hub - opened this special location (with a Harry Potter-like entrance, often joked by those present, situated between track 5 and 7) very hospitable for an afternoon full of knowledge sharing.

After everyone had enjoyed the view of the largest infrastructural junction in the Netherlands, Prof.dr.ir. Tanja van der Lippe opened the afternoon. This afternoon would be dominated by stories about age diversity. She was delighted with the cooperation of partner Dutch Railways in this second edition of the Future of Work meeting. This is a good follow-up to the successful launch of the knowledge network that took place at Rabobank last year.
What could the participants expect this time? Three inspiring presentations followed by group discussions (led by Prof. Dr. Tanja himself, Prof. Dr. Maarten Goos, Prof. Dr. Eva Knies and Prof. Dr. Maria Peeters) on the extent to which the presented knowledge actually fits in with the issues at stake in the business community and the government.

Scientific presentations (and discussions)
Prof. Dr. Maria Peeters kicked off with a story about the ageing society, generation management and the importance of a positive age diverse climate. Dr. Jelle Lössbroek then took over with a presentation that focused on the 50+ target group and their relationship with technology. Both subjects raised a lot of questions and discussion among the attendees. What was more needed? This included knowledge of generational policy, differentiation policy, tailor-made solutions and strategic personnel planning. More clarity about the exact role of the manager in all this, insight into how work satisfaction can be maintained with the introduction of more automated processes and a decreasing degree of craftsmanship, not to mention the role of the government in all this. A representative of the Employee Insurance Administration (UWV) rightly pointed out that we seem to focus very much on existing older employees, but that it is at least as important a question of how we can get older employees who are distant from the labour market back to work.

Future of work within the NS
After these two scientific presentations, Maarten Willems, project manager of strategy projects at the Dutch Railways, took the floor for a more illustrative practical story. "November 2017 our COO asked how we saw the future of working at the NS? You should know that this year the NS celebrates its 180th anniversary and that we are fairly traditionally organised. There are clear divisions between departments and functions, while new developments are creating more and more overlap. Changes are having an increasing impact on various parts of the company and can therefore be a yellow or red signal. This project was a wonderful invitation to create our own travel planner for the future." The auditorium is now looking at a fully drawn PowerPoint. "Drawings that my wife made to illustrate what's in my head", Maarten explains. Because that was quite a lot. After taking a course in speed reading, he devoured book after book and then started giving workshops about the changing future of work himself.
An interesting story and ditto discussion followed, after which the group split up to look at the implications for scientific follow-up research in more detail. Everyone present felt that there is still a lot of work to be do. The same applies to the fact that meetings such as this one may raise more questions than they answer. It's up to the scientists to find the answers. Preferably in a tight timeframe, as the business community indicates that it values fast research results over long-term research projects. And preferably 'real-time' research, with a practical translation, design thinking. In short, a fruitful afternoon with enough new food for thought.

Want to know more about this afternoon or the Future of Work hub?
Would you like to know more about what has been discussed this afternoon? Then read the extensive report. Do you also want to be involved in the hub? Contact Thomas Martens (t.a.m.martens@uu.nl)