As Flanders Today went to press, more than 2,300 students had signed up for courses in ICT, engineering, technology and industrial sciences – compared to just over 1,600 at the same time last year.
The figures were immediately welcomed by the Flemish government, as well as the region’s agency for work and training VDAB, which has been working hard to steer more young people in those study directions. The number of women opting for these courses remains low, just 10%. “Anyone who wants to attract more tech workers will have to find a way to motivate young women,” said Agoria director-general Wilson De Pril.
“These figures…give cause for hope,” commented Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters, also minister of the economy. “Hopefully they will give an impetus to a lot of young people who have yet to make their choice. It also appears that other areas, like the care sector and construction, are also achieving better numbers.”
Agoria hopes this year to pass the 7,500 mark of enrolling students, to help make up for the yearly deficit of 500 to 700 graduates in science, engineering and technology. Earlier this year, the Flemish government approved the STEM action plan (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to provide more of a stimulus to young people to enter technical and technological training
The students enrolling now will help, industry hopes, to fill what are known as bottleneck jobs – those for which too few suitable candidates are available. In times of economic crisis, Agoria said, young people tend to opt for security and aim for areas where jobs will be available.
However, Peeters pointed out, the decision to follow a particular educational course in itself will not solve all the problems of hard-to-fill vacancies. On-the-job training needs to be made more attractive to those the industry is trying to reach.
Last year, 84% of all vacancies advertised through the VDAB were for bottleneck jobs. Some businesses are now exploring new means of filling vacancies, such as by paying existing employees a premium if they recommend a suitable candidate.
In Flanders, the official list of jobs considered bottleneck includes 97 categories, from nurses, teachers and mechanics to engineers, technicians and IT workers. The list also includes restaurant wait staff, taxi drivers, security personnel and call-centre operators. The list for the Brussels region includes fewer categories, consisting mainly of skilled technical jobs but also includes sales representatives, bar staff and receptionists.