Lifelong learning is not Belgian DNA. Only 6.9% of employees followed a training course in 2016. This fluctuates around 30% in Finland, Denmark, and Switzerland. This is just one of the staggering conclusions reached by the KU Leuven's Research Institute for Work and Society. Our country needs to focus much more on lifelong learning if it is to avoid the growing mismatch between supply and demand on the labour market. Despite all efforts, companies continue to have a difficult time finding the right talents for their vacancies – almost 150,000(!) in our country alone. I'm certainly not trying to minimise the problem, but I wonder if companies are sufficiently committed to the talent they already have in-house? Like the lady who fills cakes with fresh fruit on the conveyor belt during the day and directs a theatre play in the evening. No one ever asked her whether she would like to use her directing talent as a manager in a digital environment. Whether she has already demonstrated that ambition and the desire to continue her education for it is another question. There's always two sides to a coin.

Randstad faces the same challenge, but then for the mass of people we lead towards a job or provide career coaching to every day. Today, we offer over 8,000 people in Belgium education and training annually to strengthen their employability and job opportunities. The long-term aim is to be able to do for the tens of thousands who come to us for assistance. We are not there yet, but the campaign 'What will you be doing tomorrow?' – in which we help candidates lay the foundations to keep their employability future-proof – is a clear start… The primary merit of the campaign is that it makes people think about the jobs of the future and their potential. For the sake of clarity, a future in which they can make the difference, rather than robots or technology.

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People would rather be competent than incompetent.

competence is a feeling

Keeping their availability future-proof sounds fantastic. But getting started on this, as we have experienced ourselves, is a completely different matter. It requires insight, long-term thinking, and 'guts'. You can distil the search for internally available talent into five questions:


  1. Which competences, in the broadest sense of the word, do I already have in-house today?
  2. How inquisitive and willing to learn are my people?
  3. What competences do I need today? And in five years' time, when my business or way of doing business may have changed?
  4. How much of the talent available today can I safely transfer to that future? And what about people whose competences do not match, or who do not have a sufficient ability to learn, or are unwilling to learn?
  5. What forces are levers for or against such competence management? And how do I turn (de)activate these?


To give intrinsic talents every opportunity to grow, we offer our people an environment in which they can give their best as freely as possible. And they constantly receive constructive, open feedback and stimuli. Not once a year, but at every meaningful moment and at every level. If I have remembered one lesson from the professor of change management Peter De Prins' book Six batteries of change, it is that people would rather be competent than incompetent. In specific terms, this means that competence is a feeling, not a skill.  If you want people to change, you have to give them the feeling that they have the right competences to deal with the new situation. If not, they will fall back on their previous competences, even though they know that this isn't the right behaviour.


a little push

Question four is a difficult one, if not the most difficult. But necessary. Any company or organisation that is honest with itself knows that one day, it will have to let people go in the interest of the organisation's continued existence. It is unnatural to want to keep everyone on board. By the way, outflow does not necessarily have to be negative as long as it is done in a responsible, supervised manner. How many times have you heard former colleagues tell you how grateful they were for that 'little push' because they feel much better about themselves and their match somewhere else? Not to exaggerate, but I hardly know anyone personally who has left Randstad with a bitter feeling.

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Inquisitiveness and the ability to learn are the basic competences of the future.

It is important that they were given every opportunity to discover and develop their intrinsic talents, whatever those may be. Everyone can learn a lot, but not everyone can learn as quickly or easily. Look, I never cook, as clumsy and tasteless as I am. However, learning how to cook technically might still work. But why use it when I am acquiring other skills much better and faster? In other words, put me in an environment where learning is a pleasure and feels less like a duty. 'Opleiden is het nieuwe rekruteren' (Training is the new way of recruiting) was the headline of a recent HR section in the newspaper De Standaard. They hit the nail on the head! More and more companies will (have to) do it with their own people and keep training them. It's up to each of us, employer and employee, to step into this new reality with a sense of meaning and desire.