This initiative was planned in 1999. The current form of the measure has been fully operational since 2007.
The instrument is centred on providing online courses to adults who wish to improve existing skills or learn new skills. In October 2017, there were around 635 online courses provided by the VDAB.
The instrument aims to help working adults to remain employable and active in the labour market by giving them easily accessible options to learn skills across a broad variety of subject areas. The main rationale for this instrument is to improve the competences and employability of workers and job seekers in Flanders. The instrument does so by offering (in October 2017) 635 online courses for free to both target groups.
The instrument does not identify skills mismatches itself, but rather provides adults with the tools to improve their own skills and competences. The VDAB provides the courses easily and it is made accessible to working adults as well, as they are available online.
Aim of policy instrument
This instrument is an initiative of the Flemish public employment service, the VDAB. This is
Main responsible body
The VDAB, the Flemish public employment service is responsible. It is an autonomous public institution that is not accountable to a specific minister. The organisation is run by a board of directors and it reports regularly to the Flemish Parliament on its activities.
The VDAB is the initiating organisation and is responsible for the funding, design and delivery of the online courses. Some of the funding comes from European Social Fund (ESF). The VDAB collaborates with different organisations, partner schools and educational institutions in designing the courses and materials, but takes full responsibility for the courses and provides participants with recognized certificates of completion. The VDAB is run by a board of directors and it reports regularly to the Flemish Parliament on its activities.
The VDAB is funded by the Flemish government. For the online courses specifically, the VDAB has an online platform for the online courses and e-learning. This platform has a license which costs €25,000 per year. The platform supports some 50,000 participants in online courses a year. The VDAB stated that overall, in 2014, it spent €651 million of which €444 million was allocated to direct services. A further €107.7 million was allocated to external partners.
The intended beneficiaries are employed people and job seekers who want to improve their skills or learn new skills. Both groups can make use of the measure for free.
Use of labour market intelligence
The VDAB offers online courses for free via its online platform. The courses have expanded and changed over the years in response to labour market needs. Specifically, the VDAB analyses which sectors and professions need which types of skills and competences, and then try to design and offer an online course for free. The courses are aimed at unemployed people, but also at workers and employees seeking to up skill themselves, as well as employers.
The online courses are offered for free to both employed people and job seekers. The number and variety of free course offered represents an attractive incentive for people to participate.
Frequency of updates
Updates are carried out in an ad hoc manner depending on the supply and demand of skills for specific professions. The analysts within the VDAB track the evolution in this supply and demand and provide more or less courses according to the demand on the labour market.
The courses have always been free and accessible for all employers and employees registered with the VDAB. There is now more emphasis on reactive coaching within the online courses, and more emphasis on activation related courses to help unemployed people get back to work, and to upskill employees. The approach that the VDAB takes to providing online courses has changed slightly in recent years. The courses offered used to be based on a coach and their initiative to provide it via the VDAB. Now however, there is a more careful examination of which skills and knowledge are needed in the labour market. The VDAB analyses what competences are needed and which professions are under supplied. The VDAB has a number of sectoral experts who, together with teams, track the main developments in sectors. These experts and their teams follow the evolution of supply and demand for different skills in the labour market and whether new courses or modules need to be added, or if a course is no longer necessary.
One of the barriers is that online learning is a concept that evolves very rapidly. As such, it is difficult to keep track of the latest developments at times. In addition, the requirements of participants are also changing; the demand for easier access and better visualization for instance. Therefore, the VDAB is investigating what can be done in terms of offering some of the courses (where this is suitable to the course and its content) via mobile phones. Courses are also being examined to see how the visualization and interactivity can be improved.
During the last year the VDAB has also been experimenting with teams to design online courses. Furthermore, the VDAB is searching for a balance for lessons to provide on and offline.
Where courses already exist for certain subject areas, the VDAB buys licenses.
The continuous improvement in the catalogue of courses available, their integration in employment services offered, and the fact that the courses are free are the key success factors. Additionally, for most courses no additional papers or downloadable items (e.g. software) are required so individuals can easily access them online and pick up the course at their own pace and at their own convenience. The VDAB and its sectoral experts and their teams are success factors as it is they who, sometimes in collaboration with sectoral organisations, track labour market evolutions and respond to skills needs by designing courses that they expect to be in demand. Furthermore, the VDAB has a good IT infrastructure and the funds to be able to provide these online courses for free.
The VDAB monitors on a continuous basis the number of people who take part in different online courses and checks the number of participants 4 times a year. For the 2011 to 2015 programming period, a target was also set for the number of participants, namely 15,000 people. The VDAB publishes its results annually in its annual report.
The measure is quite innovative, because free online courses are set up, in collaboration with third parties, to help individuals upskill and upgrade their competences across a broad range of areas. This means the instrument is efficient and accessible, and directly and quickly targets those who want to improve their skill competences.
Evidence of effectiveness
In 2007, about 24,000 individuals signed up for over 100 online courses. The target for the previous policy period of 2011 to 2015 (for which the VDAB set a governance agreement with the Flemish government) was to achieve 15,000 participants in its online courses. In 2014, 31,746 people were following online courses, suggesting that this instrument was effective; in 2016 the number was around 13,000. The satisfaction levels are not measured for this instrument specifically, but for the VDAB as a whole. In 2016, 80.7% of people were satisfied with the VDAB’s services, surpassing the 75% target. It appears that the number of beneficiaries are higher than expected; in 2016 there were 31,000 participants in online courses, on average each individual followed 2 courses. The VDAB itself estimates that on average per year, it provides 50,000 courses to people. An unexpected benefit has been the amount of interest and use of the instrument which, in 2014 alone, was much higher than the target of 15,000 participants per year for the 2011 – 2015 period.
Engagement of stakeholders
The VDAB is an autonomous public institution that has good working relationships with sectoral organisations and enterprises and education institutions. The social partners are quite involved in various VDAB initiatives, including the online course development.
The measure seems relatively transferable. Two key criteria are required for the instrument to be transferred: 1) the collaboration with third parties to develop the various courses with an appropriately pragmatic and theoretical balance, and 2) being able to provide these courses for free online. Both elements require willing social partners, especially from educational and sectoral organisations.
This measure seems sustainable. Having reached the initial agreement with social partners to contribute and collaborate in developing online courses, which will be offered for free by the VDAB, the working system is already in place. The initial costs of setting up the platform have also been made. As such, the collaboration can, barring any major incidents, continue and the financial resources are directed towards maintaining the digital platform and the content of the online courses. Given the utility of the measure, there does not seem to be any reason to expect the instrument to stop in the near future.