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Nahima Lanjri, Flemish Member of Parliament: 'There is still a lot of untapped potential employable in the labor market'

Social affairs and employment are two of the focal points in the portfolio of Flemish Member of Parliament Nahima Lanjri. During a working visit organized by VOKA to Bilfinger in Zwijndrecht (B), she speaks out about the challenges and possible solutions to the labor market shortage.


There is a gap between education and job market, and here that gap is being closed."

Nahima LanjriFlemish Member of Parliament


Why are you making this working visit?

'I find it very important as a member of parliament not to sit in an ivory tower. I like to keep my finger on the pulse of society, and am always curious about what is on people's minds. That is why I like to go on working visits to talk to people from companies and organizations, also to find out whether the laws we make have the right effect on the ground. Or that maybe there should be other rules.'


Can you give an example of that?

'At a large company, where I was an intern years ago, they had a suggestion box to encourage innovations. There was quite a lot of response. People who submitted a good idea could earn a bonus. But that premium was then heavily taxed. Of course, that is not an immediate incentive for innovation, which is why I proposed in parliament that these premiums be taxed much less. That was successful. There also appeared to be a need among employers and employees for more flexible implementation of parental leave. Therefore, at my insistence, this law was also amended and employees can now take one-tenth or one-half day of leave per week.'


What strikes you about this working visit to Bilfinger?

'That an enormous amount of time, money and energy is put into cooperation with education and the search for young talent. They are really hunting for young people who can enter the company from school. Because there is a gap between education and the job market, and here that gap is being closed by offering training for pipe fitter or welder. The dual learning system also appears to work well, but with the note that Bilfinger pays more attention to attitude than to knowledge. I understand that very well, because the technical skills can best be taught, but a work attitude and eagerness to learn cannot be taught. You either have those or you don't.'


Is there also enough focus on lateral entrants?

'The IBO (individual vocational training) is an interesting system, where the unemployed receive subsidized training, in this case at Bilfinger. What could be improved here is that the scheme should be extended to people who are not unemployed but are considering a career switch. Because surely it is a shame to use such a good instrument only for the unemployed, when you might be able to solve a large part of the mismatch in the labor market with it. So I'm certainly going to raise that with our Minister of Work. I think there should be more and better schemes to improve the influx into bottleneck occupations, for example by offering more opportunities to lateral entrants. In the healthcare sector that is already working well.'


What do you think is the biggest problem in the job market?

The mismatch between the number of vacancies and the number of job seekers. And that half a million people are long-term sick, a third of whom struggle with burnout symptoms. In Flanders, we have even more long-term sick people than unemployed. We cannot solve the shortage only with the unemployed, it must also come from the people who are now long-term sick, especially because of burnout. First of all, we must focus on prevention, but also on guiding people to suitable work. In addition, we have to look at people with a migration background. Flanders is dangling at the bottom of the European list of employment rates for this group. Why that is, we still need to map better.

The number of school leavers without a diploma is high in this group. Therefore, I see great opportunities for the establishment of business schools and the approach I see here: offering the training on site. I think many companies are missing opportunities in this. I am in favor of making better use of their potential, after all, these are also the people who will have to pay for our pensions later, so let's activate them and give them opportunities! I think a good example of actively doing something about this is DUO for a JOB, where younger job seekers with a migration background are brought into contact with people over 50, who volunteer their professional experience to guide these young people to work.'


Do you see it gloomy with the job market?

'No, I think we are going through a difficult period right now. We got through the corona crisis very well, but now we are facing an energy crisis that makes us anxious. Some companies are closing their doors because of the high price of energy. It will require even more flexibility and sometimes lead to temporary unemployment. We have schemes for that, but we can't keep paying all that from the government permanently. Still, I don't see things looking bleak in the long run. I see hard and good work being done to improve the match between inactives and the companies. In time that will certainly bear fruit.'

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