General education is in a comprehensive economy completely alright, says Lucas van Wees, president (2018-2020) of the European Association for People Management (EAPM).

He claims that we need to get ready for automation and robotization, but there is no need for companies to deeply change if it comes for Millennials generation. He has many years of experience in human resources management from many European countries. The president (2018-2020) of the European Association for People Management Lucas van Wees will take part in TREND’s HR Management Conference 2018 in October, which is organized by – HRcomm


The employers in Slovakia criticize inadequate knowledge of university graduates. Local universities are criticised being far from reality of economy needs. Should colleges adapt, and copy needs and ambitions of local companies?
This is a question which is also debated in other countries. With exception of law, medicine, etcetera quite a few studies at universities educate their students at academic levels but not for a professional field. Still many of these students end up in a wide area of professions due to their academic capacities, mind and skill set and are valued by employers. Sociologists can become for instance HR professionals or consultants.

How does your support to general education correspond with the pressure on specialization that we see like a nowadays phenomenon which takes place in a complex economy?
This seems to be in contradiction, but academics have learned to learn, to process large quantities of information and an ability for lateral thinking. All of these are deep and profound skills and are helpful when a career requires more specialization.

Is it not a waste of time and resources to allow students to spend years at universities and learn a lot of information that they will not even use?

In most countries, the unemployment rate is lower for highly qualified workers than for workers with lower qualifications. There’s not so much evidence that there’s a lot of “waste”.

Have you tried to focus on close cooperation with local companies as a Director HRM for the University of Amsterdam?
Next to my job, I’m also on the Board of the Dutch employer’s federation and stimulate connections between these employers and our University. Many colleagues also have their own contacts and relate with relevant stakeholders in and outside the university.

Has the role of universities changed with arrival of internet and widely accessible knowledge?
For sure, there’s much more nowadays in blended learning and so-called MOOC’s* are widely available. (*A massive open online course – note TREND).

Are you saying that the importance of formal university education has decreased?
It´s necessary to look at the issue from a wider perspective.

Should people redefine their ambition to get the education on university and rather focus on shorter, more flexible and specialised MOOCs courses to be more effective in their personal development?
It’s not a question of either this or either that, these developments go hand in hand. There’s rationale and need all these developments and offerings in education. There’s even massive interest for MOOC’s and university education.

More and more companies in Slovakia employ foreign workers. What is essential for the company to integrate foreign cultures and traditions with existing ones?
Obviously well thought on-boarding and soft-landing programs do pay off. Also, one should also have a keen eye for the spouses of your foreign workers. Having regular informal meetings and drinks where all your staff can mingle are also important. Finally, there should be a clear agreement on the spoken and written language in your company and an open Culture to deal with foreign People.

An open Europe is shifting the labour force to richer regions. From Slovakia for example 300,000 people left, doctors, managers, engineers, welders, nurses.
Yes, this is seen all over Europe. For instance, Polish workers can be seen in many other countries, on the other hand there are nowadays many Ukrainian workers in Poland filling vacancies there.

What about the benefits that comes from it?
The money they send home, it helps the economy from their home country. Also, they acquire new skills and knowledge which, once they come home, lift the economy as well.

We live in times of quick technological innovations. Does this also apply to the HR world?
Yes. Nowadays, much of the administrative work is standardized, automated and can be entered by employees themselves directly without interference by HR or Management. A next phase is that Tech will enter more sophisticated domains in HR. What about a training were a camera will monitor through face recognition if you’re paying attention and will signal the lecturer to adapt and focus the audience in a different way due to these inputs.

Can you name few more examples how technology is changing HR departments or disrupting traditional HR procedures?
Nowadays most of the larger organizations have their digital P in place and move towards new phases in these developments. This has had an impact on employment rates in administrative HR jobs. Also, people analytics crunching datasets are entering the workplace. Most of this is being developed and offered by specialized companies to interested HR departments. Analytics from the customer side though are still more advanced then people analytics.

How have companies changed?
Simple question, difficult answer. To make a long story short, the ones who are eager to learn and fail fast and smart have a better change to adapt.

The future is robotics and automation. But in the beginning automats and robots will replace people doing the simplest, easy-to-repeat operations.
A worldwide known study by Frey and Osborne has stated that some 47 percent of all jobs will cease to exist in a narrow period. Later studies have shown that this will not go as fast as predicted so there should be more time to adapt. Societies and companies who take a more inclusive approach have a better chance to deal in a more human way with the ones who are or might become the victims of these developments. A deep social disrupter which is not properly managed might backfire and impact the social cohesion of societies.

Should companies bear responsibility for taking a more inclusive approach and give a better chance to deal in a more human way?
Companies can do a better job, if can anticipate what’s coming there’s more time to prepare, act and reorganizations can be prevented or minimized which reduce financial and social costs. 

How did technological innovations change HR departments?
Modern HR departments have learned to understand that they have to be credible, relevant and have a keen eye for impact on their value to the business and the development of people.

Do you see difference in generation of millennials? Should companies change to reflect the character and mindset of these people?
Nobody stays the same over a lifetime once people mature and develop. The same counts for millennials and they are not a totally homogeneous as a group as well. So, I see no real reason that companies should deeply change to deal with the arrival of millennials.

Lucas van Wees (59), expert in HR field from Netherlands. He worked for Philips, Shell, KPN in HR, management and commercial jobs. Since 2001 he was Vice President HR Commercial and Global for KLM which merged mid 2004 with Air France. In 2016 he became the Director HRM for the University of Amsterdam, the largest University in the Netherlands. He was elected President (2018-2020) of the EAPM in 2017. The EAPM is the ‘umbrella’ for 31 national HR associations representing 250000 HR professionals in Europe. 

I see no reason why companies should deeply change to deal with the arrival of millennials