The Wallonia-Brussels Federation has established a new coordination structure for work-based learning (WBL), and has standardised the status of learners, their contracts and working hours.
About 6 000 young people a year are following WBL in Brussels. In Wallonia, 15 681 aged 15 to 25 benefited from this type of training in 2014. This figure is proportionally much lower than in Germany and in the German-speaking community of Belgium.
The low proportion of youth involved in WBL was attributed to unsatisfactory coordination. Initially, two different schemes were offered: by school and centres of teaching and WBL (Cefa) managed by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation; and by SMEs. Different operators were involved: in Brussels the training service for SMEs and, in Wallonia, the institute for WBL and SMEs (Ifapme). Different learner status, learning contracts, wages, working hours and even public holidays applied, creating confusion for the companies involved.
Therefore, the ministers of vocational training in Wallonia and Brussels and the federal education minister established new management in the form of the Francophone Office for WBL (OFFA), inaugurated in October 2015. OFFA aims at overseeing WBL in the Wallonia-Brussels region and supporting the work of different French-speaking operators.
Single learner status
Now the French-speaking sector of WBL is standardised, with learner status, training contracts, working hours and wages harmonised. There is also greater clarity over school holidays; learners will have a month of holiday in July and August in addition to 20 days of statutory leave. Aiming to prevent drop-out, the Brussels employment minister has ensured greater availability of learner support staff; one adviser is responsible for 141 learners, instead of 212 as before.
For companies, OFFA has a clear mission statement: to provide a better framework, centralise accreditation, and draw up a single grid of financial incentives. From September 2015, registration fees of 128 Euros per year for taking on an apprentice were abolished.
Almost 100 new contracts have already been signed and, according to the Brussels employment minister, ‘this is a promising start’. But minister also pointed out that ‘young people need to have found an employer before they can start their three-year training course, and, currently, 700 of them are still waiting to be offered a contract’.