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Interview with Fons Leroy, Managing Director of the VDAB

Speak Right Now, Interview, Fons Leroy
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In the context of the Speak Right Now-project, Fedactio non-profit interviewed managing director Fons Leroy about the relationship between refugees and the job market and about employees’ rights. 

How will the influx of refugees on the job market evolve in the future?

Today, we live in a globalized world in which the influx of refugees is a fact. Currently, we’re facing an influx of war refugees, economic refugees and in the future, climate refugees will occur. Thanks to Belgium’s economic boom, the job market is flourishing. Moreover, the baby boom generation is leaving the job market, which causes a structural shortage (for every 100 individuals leaving the job market, only 80 individuals are joining). As a result, the demand for workers is high and this will remain so for a while. Because of this trend, it is thus important to prepare the influx of refugees for our job market so that a win-win situation can be created for everyone. Thanks to our programme ‘integration through work’, the VDAB (Flemish Service for Public Employment and Professional Training) has already taken a few steps towards a smoother integration of newcomers on the job market. In essence, we would like to integrate those newcomers as quickly as possibly by focusing on the required competencies. Moreover, language is no longer regarded as a prerequisite, but a skill. Therefore, the VDAB offers language support on the workplace. This new approach is yielding better results since almost 40 % of newcomers is employed within one year. But there is still work to be done. More can be done to improve the collaboration between different instances such as Fedasil, the Agency for Inclusion and Integration and the VDAB. By constructing an efficient, integrated chain management within the integration framework, we can get even better results. Currently, the influx through other instances to the VDAB is taking too long, nor is it systematic. An example of how the influx can better be met with appropriate measures are the ‘integration points’, one-stop-shops for refugees in the German state Noordrijn-Westfalen. Another example is the project @level2work for highly educated individuals with a foreign language, which demonstrated the effectiveness of an integrated approach.

How widespread is discrimination on the job market and what could enterprises and instances do more to counter it? Follow-up question: are there certain ‘good practices’?

It is undeniable that discrimination exists and it should be condemned, which is why we always transfer complaints to the competent authorities. Furthermore, we use an application to track down discriminatory elements in the job vacancies on our website. The employers concerned are contacted and asked to modify their job vacancy. As an instance, we want to encourage more diversity on the labour market as well. A first manner to stimulate diversity is to base job matching on the candidate’s competencies. We are of the conviction that every job seeker has competencies, regardless of gender, age, background etc. These competencies should be the starting point to fill in job vacancies. Moreover, we have a few good practices to counter prejudices against minority groups. That’s why we show the Syrian refugee who’s working as a baker, the female electrician, the over-55-years-old, the young engineer with a migratory background in our external communication. One by one these images can break persistent stereotypes. Only by spreading these stories actively can we counter prejudices. This approach is reinforced by seminars, breakfast sessions for employers, meeting days at a provincial level with Human Resources and employers. During these activities we aim to show how diversity can be the answer to current shortages on the labour market. Lastly, we use our Stakeholders Forum to engage in dialogue with the Minorities’ Forum, the Flemish Network against Poverty and associations of individuals with an impairment, to make sure we are taking the correct measures.

Do you see any danger in the robotisation and digitalisation of the job market for the rights of the employee {art. 23 of the wage protection law}? 

Most studies have shown that the digitalisation and robotisation have not yet led to a loss of jobs. On the contrary: at present, there have never been as many employed individuals before. In my book ‘No Jobs’, I advocate digitalization and robotisation. If we use digitalization to our advantage, a win-win situation can be created for everyone. Repetitive, boring and demanding work can be left to robots, which will give humans more time to commit to more meaningful tasks. Robotisation and digitalization can contribute to more humane work and a more inclusive labour market. It is self-evident that employees (or their representatives) need to be included when new technologies are introduced. That way, they can voice their opinion about the consequences of these technologies on the employees’ situation. Nonetheless, we should not only focus on existing rights, but we should also secure new rights that can lead to sustainable careers such as the right to lifelong learning and the right to career counseling. That’s why the European Pillar of Social Rights, approved on the Göteborg Top of 17 November 2017, is of vital importance. This pillar guarantees ‘stabilizing’ principles, protecting individuals against economic repercussions such as those from the financial-economic crisis of 2008. With regard to the labour market and employment opportunities, these stabilisators ensure an adequate unemployment insurance, an adequate protection of the unemployment allowances, no changes in the employment statutes that offer few or no security for the employees involved, the access to longlife learning and an adequate activation policy. The VDAB can play a major role in the execution of these principles. Moreover, the Pillar explicitly reserves this task for public employment agencies. These agencies are essential ‘directors and/or actors’ in guaranteeing transparency on the labour market but also with regards to ‘skill development’. However, the agency should not limit its role to these two. They can also be a stabilisor when they’ve managed to bring their agency to a certain maturity.

Fons Leroy
Managing Director
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