Belgium: Future-proofing training for Flemish employees
A number of important measures have been agreed by the government and social partners in the Flemish region of Belgium in an effort to respond better to gaps in the labour market and to the training needs of employees and employers, including changes to financial and leave support to allow employees to undertake training.
Following the sixth State reform of 2011–2014, vocational training became a regional issue following the agreement reached by the Flemish government and social partners on the training instruments available to employees. The main objective of the agreement is to facilitate the personal development of employees to prepare them for future employment. The agreement forms part of the Flemish Jobs Pact, signed in October 2015.
The reforms concluded by the agreement are based on five main elements:
- job-oriented and forward-looking focus;
- qualitative framework/quality assurance system: all vocational training providers must be registered and certified, and able to prove they comply with minimum quality requirements;
- accredited training database: the Flemish accreditation committee and the joint committee are required to register all accredited training in this database;
- uniform monitoring and evaluation system: the Flemish accreditation committee and the joint committee are to produce an annual report based on information provided by the accredited service providers;
- transparency and digitalisation: the Flemish educational leave system will be modernised.
Job-oriented training will be evaluated using several criteria to determine to what extent the training focuses on the future challenges for the labour market, technological evolution and competences.
- Extent to which the training is future-oriented: This looks into whether the training can respond to gaps in certain labour market profiles, the degree to which it is labour market and career oriented, how it targets groups that traditionally have difficulty entering the labour market, as well as procedures to manage budgetary discipline (keeping to agreed financial limits) and efficiency.
- Implementation of the evaluation system: This is to be developed further in the coming months by both the Flemish government and the social partners. Based on this evaluation, training programmes may receive a temporary endorsement allowing for further development. Access to the different support measures will be simplified through the use of a single training portal.
Three key measures will be available to support employees to participate in training.
- Flemish training leave: This replaces the former system of paid educational leave and enables the employee to undertake training during working hours without loss of pay. Once the training is completed, the Flemish government will reimburse the employer for lost wages.
- Flemish training cheques: Training cheques can be used to reimburse costs incurred by the employee if they undertake training recognised by the Flemish government. The cheques will be distributed digitally and can be used by low- or medium-skilled workers for training outside working time.
- Flemish training credit: This measure is especially relevant for employees who are keen to retrain. By law, employees are already able to avail themselves of time credits in order to undertake training. The system of time credits allows employees to put their career on hold or reduce their working time for a limited period, subject to certain factors such as training or taking care of a sick relative. The training credit provides, in addition to time credits, a number of financial benefits which it is hoped will improve the work–life balance of employees.
These support measures are important, not only for employees as it reinforces their skills and competencies, but also for companies as they will have highly trained employees. Ultimately, the labour market and economy will benefit as it could lead to an increase in productivity, competitiveness and innovation.
Other smaller measures were also introduced. The Flemish government wants to be in a position to predict which competences will be highly sought after in the future and to motivate the sectors to get involved. Awareness campaigns will be set up to promote lifelong learning, and social partners, sectors and companies will be asked to actively promote the range of training support measures available.
Philippe Muyters, Flemish Minister for Work, Economy, Innovation and Sport, stated that the changes will have no financial consequences to the current policy. A total budget of €70 million is still available for training but the way it is distributed over the different measures will change.