Learning patience

This morning I called my garage to make a service appointment for my car. It turned out that this is not possible for the next three weeks. The reason? Lack of staff, and at the beginning of the vacation season, that has become an even bigger problem than it already was.

I was also in contact this morning with one of the denominational publishers about a business matter. I had emailed about it twice before and received a promise that the matter would be taken care of quickly. Now, a few weeks later I asked again how things had progressed. Apologies: “We have a serious staff shortage. Please be patient a little longer.”

One hears the same thing everywhere. Lack of staff. In the hospitality industry. From the Dutch Railways and in the government offices. From a lot of businesses.

Last Friday I returned from a trip of almost 2 weeks to Canada.
Going: Checking in at the Air Canada desk at Amsterdam Airport took about 1.5 hours. The security check was not too bad: about 45 minutes. Customs was about the same.

In Toronto the situation was even worse than at Schiphol. Upon arriving we had to stay in the plane for some time because it was very busy at the airport and further congestion had to be avoided. Customs and pass control were a lengthy ordeal. I then had the misfortune to be picked out of the crowd as a random sample to undergo Covid-testing. But it id not lengthen the entire process, since the baggage also took considerable time to arrive on the belt.

The return trip followed much the same pattern. However, we were better prepared for it. And it didn’t spoil our vacation fun.

I assume that others are wondering with me how it is possible that there are suddenly so many staff shortages in so many sectors. And how we ended up in a situation where vacant positions can hardly be filled. Covid, of course, has had its consequences. People who became unemployed because of the pandemic were looking for other work, and it is now often difficult to induce them to return to their previous kind of employment. There was still a lot of absenteeism in the recent period, particularly in health care, but also in vulnerable areas where the absence of one key person creates a series of problems. There are also issues in the way labor is paid and taxed. For the unemployed, it is sometimes not financially attractive to seek work.

I have no idea how all current problems can be solved in the foreseeable future. In some cases, however, the remedy is obvious. In some industries, pay is so low that it is not surprising you can no longer find people to work for so little. The recent hefty pay increase for baggage handlers and security staff at Schiphol Airport was very reasonable, and long overdue, and will possibly have a positive effect. The work pressure in a lot of jobs is too high. Although knowing nothing of economics, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for everyone if we worked a few more hours each week, without any additions to our tasks . Couldn’t that bring some much-needed relief into the system?

But perhaps the fundamental problem is that, collectively, we have created a society in which our demands are simply too high. Apparently, we can no longer do and deliver everything we need (or think we need).

An example is obvious. Now that in many countries airports are threatening to become ever more congested, we must ask ourselves whether we have not made air travel too cheap. It’s nice that it’s a lot cheaper to buy a plane ticket now than it was some 20 or 30 years ago. But does it really have to be so cheap that people can fly to their home country every week for the purposes of commuting? Or that people can afford an almost unlimited number of city trips, because the Easyjets and the Ryanairs, etc, will take you to London, Budapest or Madrid for just a couple of bucks? Shouldn’t we be willing to pay a little more for some services, so that more can be paid to those who provide them? And at the same time reduce somewhat the demand for some services?

A lot of patience will be required of us in the coming weeks and months. It is as it is. But that there is a lot in our society that should be organized differently is not in doubt.