Connectingthe dotsbetween hr &technology


Digital First in the Search for Employees

28 September 2022

We have all heard of the Flemish public employment service VDAB, but do you really know what the organisation can mean to you? A lot, that is for sure. VDAB helps you and employers find the right match, offers courses when you want to (re)train your skills and inspires you with job opportunities in other sectors. They do so by using all things digital. Not only for you, but for no less than 4 million citizens. However, due to the current labour shortage it’s not always that easy. Time for a chat!

Bert Schelfaut is Head of Digital at VDAB, a job title that, according to him, is often confused with the I&T department. On LinkedIn, he regularly receives questions intended for his colleague. That colleague is Jan Dobbenie who is CIO of VDAB and leads the Information & Technology division. Things they have in common? A passion for digital, a touch of humour in the workplace and the fact that they both have a team of 450 people to lead.

It takes two to tango

VDAB helps employers find the right candidate for the right job. But today, finding that candidate is harder than ever before, even for VDAB. “As an employer itself, VDAB also suffers from the current labour market tension. The government offering of the past has been diluted and we are no longer competitive because we don't have company cars or bonuses," says Bert.

There is also pressure on VDAB from stakeholders, such as politicians and social partners.  They all look to VDAB to fill vacancies. Job matching is more difficult than ever and that is a problem they do not always have a suitable solution for. Jan: “As indicated before, it is one of VDAB's missions to work with jobseekers. Simplistically, you can argue there are two categories of unemployed people. First, those who find a new job rather quickly because they have sufficient skills and competencies or are adaptable to the market environment. Second, there is a group of unemployed people who struggle to find a new job. In the latter case, it is VDAB’s mission to activate these people. Lifelong learning is often the key to success.

Jan: “We try to make it clear to employers that the perfect candidate does not exist. You must look for a sufficient match. Fit and culture is often more important than hard skills or competencies. Providing on-the-job training (optionally funded by government), is a great way to attract top talent that really fits in the organisation. It takes two to tango,” adds Bert.

Tools that match your needs

On-the-job training can be done with the tools provided by VDAB, but there is more. Bert explains: "As an organisation, we have decided to gradually become digital first. This means that we try to offer our customers, jobseekers and citizens who have a job a wide variety of self-service tools. The quality and performance of these tools must be top notch, otherwise nobody will return."  The digital first concept needs some clarification: VDAB is a digital first organisation, but not digital only. As a publicly funded organisation, part of its mission is to provide services to citizens who are not able to interact digitally with VDAB. Therefore, live contact with VDAB advisors remains possible at all times, including physical counselling sessions.

Digital courses are accessible to everyone. Bert: "The number of online courses has increased significantly, and the pandemic has played a big part in that. We received extra resources, and a team is actively working on enriching the training offer by responding to the needs of the labour market." Today, vacancies are matched using AI. Training will follow but there is an opportunity to develop this. It is a way to expand your skillset and find suitable candidates for specific jobs.

The target group has grown quickly, and in addition to courses, free tools on the website come in handy. Bert explains: "Orient is a self-test that anyone can do on our website. You get a series of questions and finally the tool provides insight into which sector is most suitable for you to look for work."

"We have a whole range of other digital tools," adds Jan. "The most widely used tool is Jobmatching, which matches profiles with vacancies. There is also Skills Cloud, which uses machine learning to capture market data to distil which skills are in demand or decline. Based on that, we can predict which skills are or will be needed. And it doesn't stop there, because Jan also mentions a third tool: "With Job Reach we provide the option to all citizens to upload their CV. This CV is converted from text to structured data. Based on that data, the citizen’s profile is mapped to a competence framework in order to determine the citizen’s job reach. In a second step, you can tick or untick additional competencies. By doing so, the citizen’s job reach expands by increasing his/her skills or competencies.”

In the end, the objective is always the same: to advance the citizen’s career and find the required skills and competencies. 

Targeting 4 million people

VDAB's target group has expanded significantly with the introduction of the overall strategy called VIBE (VDAB In BEweging or VDAB on the move). Before, the target group consisted only of jobseekers, a group of 170 to 200,000 citizens.  With the new VIBE mission, VDAB wants to provide career guidance and skills build-up for all Flemish citizens (who are active on the labour market). "The pressure on digital services has increased enormously, because you can only serve these citizens through digital channels," Jan adds.

VDAB now has to guide a group of 4 million citizens in their career. Jan describes the process: "The communication department becomes the marketing department with a semi- commercial approach. You will see us appearing more in the media in the autumn. TV shows such as “Blind Gesprongen” will be broadcast again next season. This is how we promote the idea that VDAB is there for everyone. Our tools win prizes, but the public is not sufficiently aware of this."

Bert: “People who have never been unemployed do not know us well. We want to change that. Those 4 million people are a lot but they do not require our services simultaneously. There are many opportunities to be found in the digital field that can lead more citizens to our website. Various European studies have shown that the Flemish population in general is not ready to think proactively about careers and that they are not always eager to receive training either. We need to make people aware that the labour market is changing.

At VDAB, they think long-term about the evolution on the labour market. Jan explains with a simple example: "A young truck driver starting today might have to reconsider his/her career in 15 or 20 years' time. Autonomous driving trucks might make the job of truck driver unnecessary. That's why you have to think proactively and long-term by asking yourself how lifelong learning can help you do that.

Whether we will soon be sampling jobs in the VDAB metaverse remains uncertain. Jan: "We are studying the metaverse and looking at how this virtual world helps us get people to work in the physical world (or virtual world?). The link between virtual and physical must be made. What does that mean for our job search engine?"

In need of a career switch, new job, or online course to refine your skills? VDAB has got you covered.


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