The Interview Issue

Jeffrey Joerres on ManpowerGroup and the Jobs Outlook


"When the railroad was invented, that created tens of thousands of jobs. Fast-forward to Instagram, which had just 13 employees"

Photograph by Mark Peckmezian for Bloomberg Businessweek

"When the railroad was invented, that created tens of thousands of jobs. Fast-forward to Instagram, which had just 13 employees"

Joerres, CEO since 1999, talks to Carol Hymowitz about taking ManpowerGroup (MAN) from a provider of temporary employees to a full-service recruiter, outsourcer, and trainer operating in 82 countries.

Is 8 percent unemployment the new normal?
We’re going to struggle to get back to the Holy Grail of 5 percent unemployment. You need more growth today than in the past to produce the same amount of jobs. There are so many more efficiencies in the way we work. Companies are squeezing out a lot more with less. And just think of the innovations that created jobs in the past vs. today. When the railroad was invented, that created tens of thousands of jobs. Fast-forward to Instagram, which had just 13 employees.

Many companies are sitting on a lot of cash. Why aren’t they hiring?
There’s so much uncertainty confronting us right now. There’s the debt crisis in Europe, the fiscal cliff in the U.S., rumblings of a slowdown in China, the U.S. presidential election, and health-care costs coming in that can’t yet be calculated. We’re still in slowdown hiring mode, but it will become a pause if all these uncertainties keep stacking up.

Are you hiring at Manpower?
We’re only hiring if we win an engagement or have work with a client. But we’re not going to add employees if we don’t have revenue to support them. Still, this isn’t 2008, where there was a panicked look in the eyes of our clients and total paralysis. There’s worry right now, but not panic.

What was your first job?
During and then after college, I got a job at IBM (IBM) installing typewriters. It was 1983, a recession year, and I felt immensely lucky, especially because they offered me a tremendous amount of organized training. I had a mentor assigned to me. I reported to some great managers who were trained to beat up on you and develop you. Today young people need a lot more self-awareness. The steps aren’t mapped out for them.

Is it different being unemployed today than it was 10 years ago?
We didn’t used to have so much long-term unemployment, and the skill atrophy of this group has changed. Being out of work for three years today is like being out of work for eight years a decade ago. Companies are using new technology and changing the way they work so quickly today that the longer you’re on the sidelines, the harder it is to get back into the workplace—and sometimes it’s impossible. There are no replacements for experience. When we have a potential workforce that is not in the flow, not on their canoe paddling down the river, learning how to navigate these rapids in the ever-changing depth of water, and then you put them into the canoe, they’re not going to do very well.

Is there a solution?
We need to change the conversation from job security to employment security. People have to think if the job they’re in now goes, they can get a different one. That means training and retraining people for the jobs that need to be filled—and not two years after they lose a job, but while they’re still working or as soon as they’re unemployed. And that requires a partnership between government and business.

What’s your view of the economic outlook over the next year?
A year from now we’re going to be feeling better. Europe needs to work itself out, and it won’t be completely done in a year, but it will be feeling better. The U.S. will have the election behind it, and that helps. It just takes some of the uncertainty out regardless of the outcome.

Hymowitz is an editor-at-large for Bloomberg News.

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Companies Mentioned

  • MAN
    (Manpowergroup Inc)
    • $68.0 USD
    • -0.59
    • -0.87%
  • IBM
    (International Business Machines Corp)
    • $161.76 USD
    • -0.39
    • -0.24%
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