Manpower Chief looks to Virtual Growth


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On Second Life, the virtual-reality website, Jeff Joerres is a barrel-chested bodybuilder with a mop of bright blonde hair.

In the flesh, the chief executive of Manpower is somewhat less muscle-bound and his hair is starting to thin. “What am I going to do, be a 90-year-old man?” he laughs. “It’s called Second Life for a reason.”

Aesthetic improvement is only one reason Mr Joerres is enthusiastic about Second Life. From his perspective at the top of one of the world’s biggest recruitment companies, Mr Joerres says that such virtual worlds and social networking websites are transforming the world of work. Increasingly, he says, “work will get done that way and people will find work that way”.

The economic downturn has accelerated this trend, Mr Joerres believes. He cites a new tie-up between Manpower and LinkedIn, the professional networking website, in which Manpower is offering career services to LinkedIn members – a collaboration prompted by a flood of requests to the networking website for career services in recent months.

Mr Joerres says he is becoming more optimistic about the employment scene in the US. Although he says the unemployment rate – a six-nine-month lagging indicator – will not recover until well into 2010, he sees signs the economy is becoming more stable.

At the start of the year, the Manpower chief said he would not be surprised if 2009 saw an average unemployment rate of 9 per cent , but now says that may have been too gloomy.

Mr Joerres is critical of how some companies slashed jobs during the downward cycle, a phenomenon he says they may pay for when growth returns. “There’s been a lot of blunt instruments out there, companies cutting 10 percent across the board. But what about cutting the right 10 percent?” he says.

“Companies that had the right type of workforce strategy had a better sense of what levers to pull when the downturn hit,” he observes. “But we’ve seen some really good companies panic and hit the trap door. That wasn’t necessarily wrong, but they now have a period to recover and if they don’t use this time carefully, they could find themselves losing market share, or spending more on training new staff.”

Manpower released a surprising global survey last week that underlined this conundrum: it showed that 30 percent of employers around the world are struggling to find the right people to fill jobs even though unemployment is at or near record levels in many countries.

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