Flemish companies embrace global recruitment to address labour shortages
Flanders' extremely tight labour market and ageing population are forcing companies to look for talent in far-away places. What, in theory, should be a last resort is gradually becoming a regular recruitment channel, De Tijd writes.
Last year, Flanders issued more than 6,800 temporary combined permits to newcomers from outside the EU, 140 per cent more than in 2021. These permits allow "third-country nationals" to work in Belgium for a longer period.
The increase in permits for bottleneck professions and other non-high-skilled occupations is particularly striking in these figures. These increased by a factor of three and five, respectively, according to an overview by the federal migration centre Myria.
The annual report of the Flemish Economic Migration Service gives an insight into the profiles of these workers: they are often truck drivers, cooks, mechanics, health professionals, road workers and construction workers.
Recruiting from outside the EU can help solve long-term structural labour shortages, Bert Mons of the Flemish employers' organisation Voka said in De Tijd. However, increasing labour migration is a politically sensitive issue. With elections looming and far-right party Vlaams Belang likely to make gains, politicians may be afraid to speak out in favour of a looser migration policy.
"Politicians prefer to stay away from it, but we can no longer wait," says Mons. Flemish Labour minister Jo Brouns acknowledges the problems but promises improvement by "strengthening the staff of the Economic Migration Service".
The list of "bottleneck occupations", jobs for which employers cannot find suitable workers, has grown in 2023. In January, 234 occupations, or 36 per cent of all jobs in Flanders, suffered from staff shortages, according to the Flemish public employment service VDAB. Almost 16 per cent of the people active in the Belgian labour market are not Belgian nationals, a recent study by recruitment firm Acerta showed. Foreign workers in Belgium come mainly from Morocco, France and the Netherlands.
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