Top priority for HR professionals - from recruitment to retention

Published on 14 May 2019

Stagnation in demand for new employees for the first time in years, according to report

In 2020 and for the first time in five years, HR professionals’ top priority will no longer be the recruitment of new employees, but rather training and retention of current staff. This was shown in the ‘HR Trends 2019-2020’ research report by AFAS Software, Berenschot and Performa. Although 2019 is still all about recruiting new talent, this trend is expected to stagnate next year.

The three companies have produced a ranking of HR priorities for 2019 and the expectations for 2020, based on the outcomes of their research. Recruitment and selection have been increasing as HR theme in the ranking since 2015. It even took first place this year. The number of respondents currently experiencing problems with the recruitment of new staff (75%) is higher than in 2018 (71%), but is a little below the expectations expressed in 2018 for 2019 (78%). It seems as though, for the first time in years, HR professionals were not overwhelmed by labour market shortages. For 2020, the expectation is that there will hardly be an increase (increase of 1%). ‘It looks like there’s a change on the way,’ stated Hans van der Spek from Berenschot, responsible for the research. ‘Whether this is a consequence of stagnating economic growth is not clear, but the HR playing field will certainly change.’

From recruitment to retention in 2020

24% of companies are currently hindered in carrying out their business operations by a workforce shortage, according to COEN (Business Survey Netherlands). Never have so many companies been hindered by staff shortages since monitoring started in 2008. The HR Trends report shows that next year the retention, thus development and training of employees, will form the biggest stumbling block and the most important policy theme for HR professionals in 2020. Van der Spek: ‘After many years of labour market shortages, in which some organisations had to do everything possible to attract new talent, the focus now appears to lie more on optimising the deployment of existing employees.’

Despite this bigger focus, 22% of respondents are yet to take additional initiatives to commit people to the organisation. The 78% that are taking additional initiatives in 2019 are mainly choosing to intensify the training or career programme (42%). Other important initiatives include making the employment benefits package flexible (33%) and investigating commitment (30%).

Critical sectors

The focus on retention does not mean that recruiting new talent will no longer be a problem for companies. Companies are expecting to have even more difficulty in recruiting employees in 2020 than they experienced in 2019. The recruitment problem is currently highest in the education sector, at 83%. The construction and healthcare sectors are close behind this at eighty per cent each. For next year, it is mainly the latter sector that anticipates problems with respect to recruitment: 86% are expecting problems with this. In healthcare, problems are also anticipated with respect to employee retention (66%). The public administration sector (51%) and the information and communications sector (50%) are also confronted with this.

Most difficult to fill positions

The extent to which HR professionals currently experience recruitment problems differs per position. For instance, 61% of respondents regularly or often have difficulties recruiting operational staff. In this group, the relative increase is also greatest compared with last year, at fifteen per cent. Furthermore, those interviewed state that it is difficult to find employees who are skilled in technology, maintenance and IT. These positions came in second and third place on the ranking of recruitment and selection problems, at 60% and 58%, respectively.


The regions experiencing the most shortages and thus having difficulty filling vacancies are Central and East Brabant, North Holland North and Central and South Gelderland, with 79%, followed by Utrecht and Flevoland (78%). These regions are also prominent in the distribution of economic growth in 2018 as presented by CBS (Statistics Netherlands) in early April.

About the survey

The annual HR trend survey was conducted in February/March 2019 among 1,949 HR professionals in the Netherlands. The research is a Performa Uitgeverij initiative, implemented by Berenschot with support from AFAS Software. ‘HR Trends’ is the largest annual survey among HR professionals in the Netherlands. The results were presented at the HR Trend Congress on 23 May 2019.

Hans van der Spek_klein

Hans van der Spek

Senior managing consultant