Adecco Boss

The Future of Work

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    With work changing faster than ever before, the chief executive of the world’s largest staffing company reflects on the challenges of new modes of work and how education must change.

  • Facts


    • An industrial engineer by training, Alain Dehaze ran workforce giant Adecco’s French operations for 5 years, before being appointed chief executive in 2015.
    • Adecco is the world’s largest staffing company, with annual revenues of €22 billion in 2015, employing 33,000 people across more than 60 countries.
    • Germany and Switzerland have a “dual system” of education, combining practical work with ongoing education.
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Alain Dehaze joined Adecco in 2010. Source: Reuters

If you want to understand the changing world of work, try sitting in Alain Dehaze’s chair for a day.

As the chief executive of Adecco, he oversees the world’s largest workforce company, with a turnover last year of some €22 billion ($23.4 billion). Every day, the Swiss-based company arranges short-term positions for 700,000 people, from factory workers to marketing specialists to IT experts. This gives Mr. Dehaze — who has run the company for just over a year, after joining the firm in 2010 — unique insight into what work is today, and how it can best be matched with a changing education system.

In an interview with Handelsblatt, Mr. Dehaze spoke in praise of the millennial generation, saying they did not shy from work, as some claimed. Instead, they want to be able to better manage work and personal life, and put new emphasis on company values and on the meaningfulness of work, he said. This stance fits well with new looser workforce strategies, he added: “Companies have to recognize the new flexibility, and organize it. The 9-to-5 job where you had to be in the office is a model on its way out.”

All of this presents management with real challenges, he said – it had to learn to trust its employees and recognize the crucial importance of feedback. In addition, executives must understand the central role of values and organizational rituals in keeping the diffuse forms of organization together.

As a company, Adecco had to face these challenges too, he said. It has the advantage of an organization formed of small teams and cells, he added. In addition, there were several key rules: “No more than 60 percent of time done via Smart Working (mobile or home-based work): 40 percent of the time you have to be in the office,” he said. “Work is not just about being efficient – it is about social life too. You need personal contact with colleagues.”

“60 percent of young people will do jobs that do not yet exist.”

Alain Dehaze, CEO, Adecco

On the question of work and digitization, he is optimistic. “There’s a historical analogy that I like – in 1901, 40 percent of U.S. workers were agricultural workers. Today it is only 2 percent,” he said. Human society was going through a transitional process that would last decades, but there was no reason to think this would mean mass unemployment, he added. “Sixty percent of young people will do jobs that do not yet exist.” That fact alone made education all the more crucially important.

Rethinking education would mean a mixture of “hard” and “soft” learning, insisted Mr. Dehaze. Children should be given an early chance to learn real skills: in South Korea, children learn computer programming in schools. But it was just as important to develop “team-working skills, creativity, project management, empathy, and social intelligence,” he added.

One way to encourage this was a greater combination of work and learning, which would also allow for better coordination between companies and the education system. Of current systems, the “dual system” in Germany and Switzerland had great advantages and was admired in many countries. Germany has a highly developed system of company-based apprenticeships, where trainees also attend school for part of the week.

For various reasons, said Mr. Dehaze, the dual system did not always transfer easily to the rest of the world. As president of the Global Apprentice Network, he helped to establish a dual system in the American state of Kentucky. However, labor restrictions on under-18s in the state meant apprenticeships were hobbled from the start. In the end, state laws had to be revised to get the scheme off the ground.

“With a declining population, older peoples’ skills cannot be thrown by the wayside.”

Alain Dehaze, CEO, Adecco

Not everyone shares Mr. Dehaze’s enthusiasm for the German dual system, which separates young people into craft apprentices, practical trainees, and an academic stream attending university. Mr. Dehaze said he lamented the drop in the cultural status of apprenticeships, especially since they could be combined with other forms of study.

Even today, traineeships could open a surprising number of doors, he said: “One great example is Stephan Howeg, the global marketing manager for the Adecco Group; he began as a machine mechanic.” Another example was Sergio Ermotti, chief executive of UBS bank, who began at the very bottom as a trainee.

Turning to questions of age and demographic shifts, he suggested that the apprenticeship model might be extended to older people. With a declining population, older peoples’ skills could not be thrown by the wayside, he said. Maybe systematic training – once only given to the young – could help them integrate to the changing realities of the job market.

Whatever changes will come to the world of work, he said, there would have to be an ongoing coordination of employee’s capacities with the needs of business. This ultimately was a joint task for business and the state, he added.


Bert-Friedrich Fröndhoff leads a team of reporters which covers the chemicals, healthcare and services industries at Handelsblatt. Brian Hanrahan, an editor at Handelsblatt Golbal, also worked on this article. To contact the author:

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