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In focus: Belgium

Going local: German-Speaking Community

Contribution by Karl-Heinz Lambertz,
Minister-President of the German Speaking Community of Belgium

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The German-speaking Community is the smallest Belgian region, with around 76.000 inhabitants in the east of the country. Due to its location at a cultural crossroads between the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgian Wallonia, the German-speaking Community is a border region with a very open economy, with a strong emphasis on mobility. As a result the region's inhabitants are multilingual and culturally adaptable. The same characteristics apply to the regional economy and labour market, and are reflected in the expectations that have to be met by employees and entrepreneurs.

Dual vocational education
For 20 years the German-speaking Community has enjoyed autonomy in developing an education system to meet these specific needs. For example, practice-based French courses are an integral part of the curriculum, including for those going into the traditional trades. In combination with the well-known strengths of dual education systems in German-speaking partner countries and regions, the German-speaking Community has developed a dual vocational education system reflecting the needs of this border region. In this system, apprentices and future tradesmen are given a general and specialist education in vocational training centres, at the same time as acquiring wide-ranging professional skills through internships with tried and tested work experience providers. Together with intensive careers advice for young people, this educational system, which is unique in Belgium, is a decisive factor in the regional employment rate for 15-24 year-olds, which is 6.7% higher than in the rest of the country (2010 statistics).

Youth unemployment in the German-speaking Community
In the German-speaking Community a sound basic education is the best means of keeping youth unemployment at a low level. For example, 94% of those completing such dual vocational education (average for 2000-201were able to find employment immediately; on average, these young people were able to find jobs within 45 days.

There are over 800 apprentices (average for 2004-201in over 600 active work experience providers in the German-speaking Community - in per capita terms, 10 times higher than in Wallonia or Flanders. Thanks to large numbers of students in the dual education system and a high percentage of them going on to find work, between 2003 and 2012 the region consistently enjoyed the lowest youth unemployment rate in Belgium. However, at 13.3% in 2012, more still needs to be done.

Learning and qualifications across borders
The organisations involved in the region's dual vocational education system, such as IAWM, which acts as a supervisory body, and the ZAWM vocational education centre, use cross-border partnerships and European projects to exchange experience and knowledge with their partners in the field of vocational education, such as chambers of crafts, industry and commerce, vocational colleges and sectoral organisations. Together with these partners, they organise European apprentice exchanges, as well as joint training activities and cross-border ("binary") qualifications.

"Border Competences" is a Leonardo da Vinci pilot project managed by the IAWM. This project covers the main aspects of vocational education enabling school-leavers to acquire the skills they need for a cross-border economy and labour market. The term "Euregio skills" is used here to refer jointly to foreign-language skills, intercultural skills and information skills.

Based on cross-border educational partnerships going back many years, and an education system which reflects the specific needs of the German-speaking Community as a border region, several exemplary models of European vocational education have been put into practice: 

For example, since 2007 trainee vehicle electro-mechanical technicians have only needed to complete a single course and final exam in order to obtain both German and Belgian journeyman’s certificates. This gives them ideal conditions for finding work on both sides of the border. Since 2010 retailers trained in the German-speaking Community or Aachen can obtain qualifications from the neighbouring region; from 2013 such binary qualifications will also be offered to hairdressing trainees. The plan is to roll this out to other professions.

At the same time, the ZAWM Centre works together with the Aachen Crafts Chamber to provide joint cross-border training for butchers, bakers and confectioners. Such training takes into account the specific conditions, culinary needs and business environment of each partner region, thus offering considerable added value for participants, teaching staff and professional associations.






The national context:
In 2012, the youth unemployment rate in Belgium was 18%. However, labour market participation varies considerably from one region to the other. Youth unemployment is a more acute problem in Wallonia and Brussels than in Flanders. Although the current economic crisis had a more severe impact on youth unemployment in Flanders, the imbalance remains nevertheless largely unfavourable to the Walloon and Brussels regions. As Brussels and Wallonia suffer from lower skill levels and a higher early school leaving rate, the problem of youth unemployment is more structural in nature in these regions than in Flanders.

This particular regional situation also affects the effectiveness of the employment policy: the responsibility lies partially with the regions, and partially with the federal government. However, the federal government has difficulties in reaching a consensus because of the regional differences. Moreover, there are striking differences between the sexes. Young women are considerably more disadvantaged in the labour market – their employment rates are lower, and the economic crisis has had a more severe negative impact on their situation. As in several other Member States, the young also often get trapped in temporary jobs, giving them little job security.
The federal government as well as the regional ones have already taken some measures. In 2012, the federal government undertook steps to provide 10,000 subsidised traineeships for youth leaving the educational system without a secondary education degree. These plans are implemented in close cooperation with the different regions. Resources are also used to increase the existing reductions of social security contributions for low-skilled young job seekers. In general, the intensity and the type of support vary according to job seekers' risk profile. There is an intense and rapid follow-up of low-skilled job seekers, to avoid long-term unemployment and resolve skill mismatches.
In Flanders, such a follow-up is for example implemented through the "Career Agreement" 2012-2014. In all regions, steps are taken to partially subsidise wages and social contributions for individual vocational traineeships. Efforts are made to stimulate entrepreneurship and self-employment, for example through the "Plan Airbag" in Wallonia, which offers financial support for self-employment initiatives launched by people below 30 or above 50. In Flanders, the Flemish Agency for Entrepreneurial Training (SYNTRA) offers young people training to support their development as entrepreneurs.
On the federal level, only own funds are used (some EUR 1.3 billion disbursed until the end of 2011 across all the measures currently underway).At the level of the regions, ESF funding is used to support a variety of measures focusing on the young. In the German-speaking Community alone, around EUR 1 million of its ESF programme has been dedicated to 15 different initiatives focused on young job seekers.
To combat and prevent youth unemployment, Belgium has identified four key priorities: srenghening incentives for the young unemployed to take up work by tightening eligibility conditions for the tide-over allowance; supporting self-entrepreneurship; investing in vocational training and in-company traineeships; ensuring closer follow-up and guidance of young job seekers by regional employment services.



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