Belgium’s talented, highly educated and multilingual workforce is one of the main reasons international companies choose to invest here. As Belgium’s economic engine fires up, the Government, with its focus on job creation, would do well to address the widening talent gap.
The High Council for Employment (Conseil supérieur de l'emploi/Hoge Raad voor de Werkgelegenheid) estimates between 80,000 and 100,000 jobs will be created in 2017-2018, while Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Employment, Economy and Consumers Kris Peeters has set the goal of achieving full employment by 2025.
Yet, job vacancy rates in Belgium are already high. There were more than 123,000 job vacancies earlier this year, when the vacancy rate exceeded 3% for the first time, according to FPS Economy. This points to a mismatch between the skills that jobseekers have versus the skills that employers seek – in other words, a talent gap. Essencia, the chemical and life sciences industry association, for example, says employers are struggling to fill hundreds of jobs in the pharmaceutical and chemical sectors.
We have the jobs, but how do we fill them?
Education and training is obviously part of the answer. Initiatives like the new Digital Belgium Skills Fund, which will support projects to train young people in digital skills, are a step in the right direction, as are efforts to encourage more students to take up STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) studies. With the rapid pace of technological change, lifelong learning will be more important going forward, as it becomes necessary to ‘re-skill’ throughout one’s career.
Training, however, isn’t sufficient to address the skills shortage – Belgium also needs to be able to compete for talent on the international level. Unfortunately, incoherent migration policies and the failure to adopt certain EU directives put Belgium at a competitive disadvantage in this regard. Better labor migration policies would help plug the talent gap, attract investment and drive economic growth in the long term.
In our new position paper, Opportunities for Belgium: Ensuring Business-Friendly Immigration Policies, we make recommendations to improve the corporate immigration system. Specifically, we recommend the federal and regional governments fast-track procedures for managers and highly-skilled employees, establish faster processes for obtaining and renewing residence and work permits, and transpose the EU Single Permit and the Intra-Corporate Transfer (ICT) Directives into Belgian law.
One of Belgium’s greatest assets is its people. To maintain the high quality of its workforce and forestall further skills shortages, Belgium needs to continue to invest in education and training at home, while at the same time attracting the best talent from abroad.
Photo credit: flickr / Katchooo