Challenging jobs market prompts shops to hire non-Dutch speakers

Hoog Catherijne retain centre in Utrecht. Larger chains are more likely to recruit English-speaking staff. Photo: N. van der Pas

Retailers in the largest cities are increasingly dispensing with the need for staff to speak Dutch as they face an uphill struggle to fill vacancies, NOS reports.

Homewares chain Hema said the challenging jobs market had prompted it to take on staff who speak English but not Dutch, but stressed the importance of having a good balance among its staff.

“In the cities there are more English-speaking customers, so there are more English-speaking staff. It is important for our shop staff to reflect the make-up of our society,” a spokesman said.

Supermarket chain Jumbo also said it wanted its workforce to be representative of society, including non-Dutch speakers.

Its spokesman told NOS: “In large urban areas you definitely see that a portion of our customers prefer to communicate in English. Obviously we make sure there are always Dutch-speaking colleagues on hand.”

Discount chains such as Zeeman and Action have also adopted a more flexible approach to recruitment as Dutch-speaking personnel prove hard to find.

Specialist advice

Zeeman changed its policy this year, but a spokesman estimated that fewer than 1% of staff who come into contact with customers are unable to speak Dutch.

“Because the jobs market has become so tight Dutch is no longer an essential requirement,” a spokesman said. “This gives us more scope to recruit people more easily.”

Drugstore chains Kruidvat and Etos, as well as DIY giant Gamma and off-licence franchise group Gall & Gall, still require their staff to speak Dutch because they need to be able to offer specialist advice.

Gamma admitted that recruiting staff was challenging, but dispensing with the requirement to speak Dutch was not an option. “For us it is clearly important for our staff to be able to understand everything, including all our Dutch handbooks and instruction manuals.”

Independent retailers in the cities still have a preference for Dutch speakers, but here too Anglophone staff are becoming more common.

Yvette van Middelkoop, co-owner of clothing store Katoenfabriek, said she had no issues with taking on personnel who only speak English.

“It’s really nice to work with these people. It’s very rare for customers to get irritated or say: ‘But I can’t speak any English’. And there’s always someone who speaks Dutch, so they can step in and translate or take over. So it’s never really a problem.”

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