Various skills anticipation activities take place at the federal and regional levels.
At federal level the FPB undertakes qualitative studies[iii] on the socio-economic situation in the country. One example is their research into the links between education and training and subsequent employment, including a 2015 study on the link between early school leaving and unemployment.
“View.brussels”, the former L’Observatoire bruxellois de l’emploi et de la formation regularly produces labour market analysis and trends. The labour market assessments identify skills needs, shortages and critical job functions.
At the regional level two approaches have been identified in relation to skills assessments:
- directories of occupations and qualifications and
- identification of in-demand occupations.
Directories of occupations and qualifications, such as the REM (Répertoire Emploi Métier) in the French speaking community, provide a directory of occupational profiles and associated training profiles, thereby providing information on the demand and supply sides. In the Flemish-speaking community the ‘Competent’ database carries out a similar function.
At a regional level, the respective statistics offices undertake skills assessment activities which contribute towards the identification of in-demand occupations, e.g. ‘Baromètre Conjoncturel de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale’ in Brussels, which provides information on the evolution of employment with respect to, amongst other things, the characteristics of jobseekers. The regional PES also provide evidence that highlights skills shortage areas due to a lack of candidates with the skills required (e.g. ‘métiers en pénurie’) or occupations for which there are candidates but who lack the required level of skill (e.g. ‘fonctions critiques’). Regional initiatives include ‘Job Focus’ (liste des metiers porteurs)[iv] in Wallonia, ‘liste des fonctions critiques de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale’[v] in Brussels, and ‘Knelpuntberoepen’[vi] in Flanders. These initiatives also have a foresight dimension, as they result in a list of occupations for which a shortage is foreseen over the short term (see section 2.3 below).
In Belgium, there are no skills forecasts as such. At the federal level, the FPB is the leading institution for carrying out labour market projections. On a semi-annual basis, the FPB produces the ‘Economic Budget’, short run macroeconomic forecasts including quarterly estimates of the number of jobs that will be created over the forthcoming year. This exercise does not provide information on emerging skills needs or areas in which there are likely to be skills shortages. The latter equally holds for the short-run (national) macroeconomic forecasts that are produced respectively by the National Bank of Belgium[vii] and by UCL-IRES (Université catholique de Louvain - Institut de recherches économiques et sociales)[viii].
On a yearly basis, the FPB also produces medium-term (five-year period) macroeconomic perspectives which include an outlook for the labour market. Moreover, the federal (FPB) and regional (statistical offices) levels jointly publish a regional breakdown of these national perspectives under an initiative coordinated by FPB (the HERMREG project). Again these are employment rather than skills forecasts, but they do provide an industry breakdown of employment figures and – at the national level – estimates of future replacement demand and job openings in different industries. IWEPS also produces short-run macroeconomic forecasts for Wallonia, including an estimate of aggregate employment growth.[ix]
Another key study undertaken at the regional level is the aforementioned ‘Baromètre Conjoncturel de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale’ which, in addition to providing information on the evolution of employment, also provides short-term forecasts of employment.[x]
In 2018, the Federation of the Technology Industry (AGORIA) in collaboration with VDAB, Forem and ACTIRIS inventoried for the first time the main trends in the Belgian labour market up to 2030 (AGORIA, 2018). The in-depth study includes quantitative and qualitative forecasts and reports on changes in the country, the three regions, the16 sectors of activity and 75 employment profiles in the country; creation and loss of jobs, as well as unemployment levels and number of vacancies at national and regional level, sector and occupational profile; workers’ inflows and outflows, mismatches between supply and demand, the digital competences necessary for the future and recommendations for policy makers.
At regional level there are examples of foresight research in the work undertaken by the regional PES. One example is the Occupations for the Future project (Metiers d’avenir) in Wallonia, commissioned by FOREM and commenced in 2013, with the aim of identifying and better understanding labour market trends over the following five-year period. The project sought to guide education policy in the region, as well as anticipating changes that will take place over the longer term. The first step of the project was a series of interviews with 300 experts from various sectors about future trends and their potential impact on the development of skills. These findings were then compiled into a database and used to identify key lessons learnt in each sector. The study identified occupations of the future and then looked at how training might meet the needs of some of those occupations. In 2016, the project focused on the impact of digitalisation on the labour market[xi]. Similar initiatives exist in Brussels and Flanders (see regional initiatives listed in section 2.1). In 2021, Le Forem has reportedly changed the methodology applied to former future-looking analyses exercise dating back to 2018[xii].
The ADG, the PES in the German-speaking community, undertakes skills needs identification using directories of occupations and qualifications and data on occupations in demand. Labour shortages identified by ADG lead to a list of occupations in demand, which is available to training providers, as well as the wide public.
Other skills anticipation practices
At federal level ONEM evaluates policies related to skills. For example, since 2013 ONEM has evaluated training and other measures with the aim of helping unemployed people find a job, focusing specifically on whether the current measures are effective in helping individuals to search for jobs. These evaluations highlight skills gaps (metier en penurie) and help jobseekers to acquire the relevant skills to fill these gaps. Such evaluations shed light on the effectiveness of the skills-related initiatives and thus contribute to improving future skills anticipation work. Evaluations are also undertaken at regional level; for example the 2014 IWEPS was concerned with assessing training for jobs where there were skills gaps.
The Flemish administrative department ‘Werk en Sociale Economie’ set up a system of skills anticipation (VLAMT[xiii]) in 2010, based on three pillars: quantitative projections of replacement demand and future job openings by industry (conducted by Steunpunt Werk[xiv]); matching of job supply and demand by VDAB (the PES); and financing of strategic studies that gauge future skills needs in specific industries.
Another important element of skills anticipation practices in Belgium regard the Instances Bassins Enseignement – Formation – Emploi (IBEFE) are structures operating as local committees for VET and employment in ten geographical areas (bassins). These structures have been created with the objective of strengthening the ‘structure and synergies’ between education, training and employment. The aim is to bring stakeholders – including organisations representing education and training institutions and social partners – together in order to use skills anticipation data to identify priority sectors for employment and the relevant education and training pathways. They produce annual reports on the VET programmes and outcomes to inform what trades and skills should be prioritised according to the needs of each area.
VDAB has been using various analytical techniques, including AI-development and applications to identify skill trends and developments on jobseekers and vacancies. To allow for future skill needs in vacancies, an AI-experiment called 'Competrend' has been undertaken[xv]. Future plans include expanding this tool to combine the data with predictions on jobseekers and sectoral developments, building on collaboration with other government actors and universities.[xvi]
Actiris runs annual analysis of recruitment difficulties in Brussels (Analyse des fonctions critiques); a bi-annual graduate tracer study, and analysis on needs for training and employment (Détermination des besoins en emploi et en formation), and language skills. The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the labour market and skills, sectoral studies, and consultation with employers take place at less frequent and regular basis[xvii].
BE-VDAB performs continuous analysis of data on jobseekers’ skills and vacancy skills’ requirements, with structured analyses performed on monthly, annual or ad-hoc basis[xviii].