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The new normal of the job market

Key takeways and full interview with Davy Clauwaert (VDAB)

Author: Timothy Macken, CEO Made

The VDAB is the public employment service of Flanders. They focus on supporting job seekers to find a job or to strengthen their competences and help employers to find the right candidates. I spoke with industry expert Davy Clauwaert, who’s responsible for the way employers are approached within VDAB, about the impact of corona in their industry.

Read the 7 minute article (English) or listen or watch the full interview below (Dutch)!

80% of job seekers were reached digitally during confinement!

Davy Caluwaert, VDAB

Prefer to listen? Here is the 50 min audio (in Dutch!):

8 Key takeaways on the new normal of the job market:

1. The effect of the aging population on unemployment is bigger than the effect of the corona crisis

Yes, unemployment has risen the last few months, but before corona there were many more jobs than jobseekers. Some industries are hit hard (transportation, construction, hospitality, …), others can’t find enough employees to get things done (health care, agriculture).

Davy feels that on the longer term the effect of an aging population is much bigger than this crisis. The gap is so big that it’s very likely there will (again) be too little job seekers to fill all the jobs. A striking insight, as it is said that automation will kill many jobs. The next years, however, the main challenge will be to close the competence gap between the open job positions and the job seeker skills.

2. 80% of job seekers were reached digitally during confinement!

Davy says VDAB was able to reach 80% of job seekers through digital channels. This is much more than they expected and confirms the digital strategy they were going for. Everyone who had any doubts about a digital first approach should doubt no more. However, it also became painfully clear that the most vulnerable people can’t be reached in the same way. Even after confinement some people kept coming to the closed VDAB offices, some not even aware of the confinement that was going on! Face to face services will remain crucial to reach part of the population.

3. The perfect balance between human and digital.

VDAB plans to find the perfect balance between a digital and a human approach. They are building a 3-stage approach: i) digital, ii) human-digital and iii) face to face to service the needs of different kinds of personas and jobs-to-be-done. Today already, VDAB is able to identify specific needs of job seekers through AI, redirecting them to the right kind of approach. A full AI team is working on this every day. I personally believe we will not see AI coming in through the front door in this industry. It will be introduced to us step by step in small functionalities that feel natural.

The demand for e-learning and -training has gotten an immense boost.

Davy Clauwaert, VDAB

4. The demand for e-learning and -training has gotten an immense boost.

The corona confinement has been an eye opener for many, both job seekers, employers and the VDAB team themselves. Not everyone was ready to start working digitally and in pivoting their business, many employers saw the need to re-train their employees. The demand and the need for e-learning and -training has gotten an immense boost. VDAB’s “Introduction to AI'' was fully booked and Davy expects this to keep growing in the next months and years! Not all training can be done digitally (e.g. bricklaying), but many more e-courses and modules might lower the barrier for employees and employers to start a lifelong learning journey.

5. More employers could benefit from a partnership with VDAB, but they don’t find them (enough).

It is remarkable how many good and free courses VDAB already offers, but how little employers are convinced to stimulate their workforce to grow their capabilities! In general, more employers need to be aware that VDAB can be a strong and strategic business-partner, Davy says. In a changing job market with more job openings than job seekers, it will be hard to find the perfect candidate. VDAB can help to train a candidate into the best fit, on the job (e.g. IBO) or by following courses. If your current team lacks certain skills, they can build a (e-) learning journey with them, or, in the unfortunate event that you would need to lay off personnel, they can help you to do the right thing: share the employer’s skills and capabilities to help them find their next job faster!

During confinement, VDAB saw a 50% drop of employer visits on their website, where you would have expected the opposite, as the need for training is so big! So, to prepare for the future, the employer awareness needs to grow considerably, according to Davy.

I personally believe we will not see AI coming in through the front door in this industry. It will be introduced to us step by step in small functionalities that feel natural.

Timothy Macken, Made

6. An agile approach and positive mindset are your best chance to get through the crisis.

Davy was inspired by companies that have responded fast to the crisis, immediately shifting towards meaningful actions. A roof-building company shifted to making mouth masks in a matter of days, a big car brand switched into making respiratory equipment and organizations were using the ‘off’ time to retrain their employees. He believes those with this positive mindset will survive, in contrast to other CEOs that started complaining and holding back on investing in the future.


7. Involve your team in co-creating the future of your organization.

The relation between human and nature has changed, Davy says. During confinement we have experienced the calm in the streets and the returning of birds and rabbits. But also, the relationship between employee and employer has changed. Davy believes many employees feel connected to their company and want it to thrive. Davy urges CEO’s to ask your employees to co-create the future of the company. Don’t do it alone, involve your team in the co-creation process! You’ll be surprised about their passion and great ideas.

8. Think global, act local

As many companies are suffering from their dependence on foreign supplies (which have stopped), Davy believes more people will rethink their value chain to more locally anchored solutions. Seen the positive impact on the environment and on job opportunities, this is a trend that Davy would love to see growing further.

Get inspired by VDAB: Ideation starters to build your response to Covid19:

  • Could part of your services be offered digitally and could you hence spend more face-to-face time with a service-heavy part of your audience?

  • Could you additionally offer a (e)-training program of your core expertise? Maybe people need to learn new skills and you could be their teacher?

  • Would there be benefits for your organization if you rethink your value chain with local suppliers?

  • Check out more ideation starters and areas of opportunities.

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