Chapter 4. Strengthening skills use in the workplace

This chapter presents evidence on how firms in Flanders use skills within the workplace. It highlights the factors that affect skills use as well as specific policies and practices within Flanders. Flanders can improve skills use in the workplace by taking action in four areas: 1) raising awareness of the importance of skills use in the workplace; 2) reshaping workplace practices and encouraging management training, especially among SMEs; 3) promoting career mobility within sectors and firms; and 4) encouraging human resources practices through partnerships between firms and public employment services.



OECD countries have primarily engaged with the issue of skills from the supply side by focusing on the need to improve the number of people with post-secondary, tertiary academic and vocational qualifications. However, there is an increasing recognition that policymakers should also consider the deployment of skills in the workplace. This requires that public policy makers work closely with employers to look more comprehensively at how they use the skills of their employees (OECD/ILO, 2017[1]). Skills utilisation strategies often involve a mix of policies focusing on work organisation, job design, technology adaptation, innovation, employee-employer relations, human resource development practices and business product market strategies.

Putting skills to better use in the workplace is important for workers, firms and the broader economy. OECD research shows that workers who use their skills more frequently earn higher wages even after accounting for differences in education and skills proficiency (OECD, 2016[2]). From the point of view of firms, better skills use in the workplace is typically associated with higher labour productivity. For example, the use of reading skills explains a considerable share (26%) of the variation in labour productivity across countries participating in the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), after adjusting for average proficiency scores in literacy and numeracy.

Improving use of skills in the workplace will be a key element in achieving the Vision 2050 goal of Flanders being a “region that creates prosperity and well-being for its citizens” (Vlaamse Regering, 2017[3]). This chapter discusses factors that affect skills use in Flanders. It provides an overview of current data pertaining to skills use and covers relevant policies and practices within Flanders. The chapter also provides international examples to highlight how OECD countries are targeting skills programmes to improve human resource and management practices. The chapter concludes with practical recommendations of how to improve skills use in Flanders.

Why strengthening skills use in the workplace matters

OECD analysis indicates that workers in Flanders who use their skills more at work tend to earn higher wages. Figure 4.1 shows the impact of skills use, education and skills proficiency on wages in Flanders. It demonstrates that better use of skills has a positive effect on wages, beyond having attained these skills. The degree to which workers in Flanders apply their reading and information and communication technology (ICT) skills at work is particularly significant in explaining higher wage returns, which is an important aspect of job quality for individual workers. The number of years of education and skills proficiency are also important factors in explaining wage variation among workers.

Figure 4.1. Wage returns to skills use, education, and skills proficiency in Flanders
Percentage change in wages associated with a standard deviation (1) increase in skills proficiency, skills use at work, and years of education (2).

1. One standard deviation corresponds to the following: 2.9 years of education; 47 points on the literacy scale; 53 points on the numeracy scale; 44 points on the problem solving in technology-rich environments scale; 1 for reading use at work; 1.2 for writing and numeracy use at work; 1.1 for ICT use at work; and 1.3 for problem solving at work.

2. Estimates from Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regressions with log wages as the dependent variable. Wages were converted into USD Purchasing Power Parity (PPPs) using 2012 USD PPPs for private consumption. The wage distribution was trimmed to eliminate the 1st and 99th percentiles. All values are statistically significant. The regression sample includes only employees. Other controls included in the regressions are: age, age squared, gender, whether foreign-born. Skill proficiency controls are the following: literacy for reading and writing at work, numeracy for numeracy at work and problem solving in technology-rich environments for ICT and problem solving.

Source: OECD (2018[4]), OECD calculations based on Survey of Adults Skills database (PIAAC) (2012, 2015),


Looking at specific aspects of skills use in the workplace, higher job satisfaction is associated with the use of reading, writing, ICT, and problem-solving skills at work. Figure 4.2 shows how the relationship between skills use, years of education and skills proficiency affects job satisfaction in Flanders. In many cases, the use of these skills is more important in explaining high levels of job satisfaction than educational attainment and skills proficiency. Altogether, these findings indicate that skills use at work is an important factor contributing to improving job quality in Flanders.

Figure 4.2. How skills use, education and skills affect job satisfaction in Flanders
Percentage-point change in job satisfaction associated with a standard deviation (1) increase in skills proficiency, skills use at work and years of education (2)

1. See note 1 in Figure 4.1.

2. Marginal probability estimates from probit regressions with individuals reporting being extremely satisfied in their current job as the dependent variable. One model is estimated for each skills use variable, with years of education and the corresponding skills use and proficiency as independent variables (literacy scores for reading and writing use at work, numeracy scores for numeracy use at work and problem solving in technology-rich environment scores for ICT and problem-solving use at work). All models include controls for age, age squared, gender, foreign-born status, tenure and gross hourly wages.

Source: OECD (2018[4]), OECD calculations based on Survey of Adults Skills database (PIAAC) (2012, 2015),


Skills use in the workplace in Flanders

Flanders tends to make good use of literacy skills but falls below the OECD average on the use of numeracy skills

Compared to other OECD countries, workers in Flanders tend to make good use of literacy skills at work; however, this is not the case for numeracy skills (Figure 4.3). On average, workers in Flanders have high literacy proficiency compared to the OECD average, and the intensity of skills use and skills proficiency is similar in relative terms. By contrast, Flemish workers use their numeracy skills less intensively than workers do in other OECD countries. The gap in numeracy proficiency and skills use among workers in Flanders is among the highest across OECD countries. This implies a potential loss in investment in developing those skills that are often a complement to the adoption of new technologies.

Figure 4.3. Skills use at work and skills proficiency of working population

Notes: For reading, writing, numeracy and ICT skills, skills use indicators are scales between 1 "Never" and 5 "Every day". Problem-solving skills use refers to respondent answers to “How often are you usually confronted with more complex problems that take at least 30 minutes to find a good solution?” The set of possible answers also ranges between 1 "Never" and 5 "Every day". Proficiency scores range from 0 to 500. The OECD average is based on the sample of OECD countries/regions assessed in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC).

Source: OECD (2016[5]), Skills matter: further results from the Survey of Adult Skills,


Small and medium-sized enterprises lag behind large firms in skills use

There appears to be a positive correlation between firm size and the use of information-processing skills at work in Flanders (Figure 4.4). Large firms (over 1 000 employees) in Flanders tend to make the most frequent use of workers' reading, numeracy, and ICT skills at work, which is a similar pattern to the OECD average. The use of skills in micro-firms (1 to 10 employees) is lagging behind in Flanders, especially for reading and numeracy at work. There is a stark gap between large firms and all other firms (micro, small and medium-sized) in the level of ICT skills use at work in Flanders. This is important as ICT skills are a complement to the introduction of new technology in the workplace, which helps firms to produce products and services in a more efficient manner.

Figure 4.4. Use of information-processing skills at work, by firm size

Note: The OECD average is based on the sample of OECD countries/regions assessed in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC).

Source: OECD (2018[4]), OECD calculations based on Survey of Adults Skills database (PIAAC) (2012, 2015),


When looking at skills use within sectors, Flemish workers in low-skilled occupations tend to use their skills less than workers in occupations which typically require a higher level of education or skills. For example, skills use in Flanders tends to be low among elementary occupations and among plant and machine operators and assemblers, and higher among workers within management and professional occupations (Figure 4.5). Therefore, the use of skills in the workplace is linked to the complexity of the job. Workers with more education are more likely to apply their skills in the workplace and be less vulnerable to changes in the world of work.

Figure 4.5. Skills use at work by occupation in Flanders

Source: OECD (2018[4]), OECD calculations based on Survey of Adults Skills database (PIAAC) (2012, 2015),


Factors affecting skills use in the workplace

Workplaces are often seen as a “black box” for policymakers, as employer skills needs evolve quickly. Given that employers are often reluctant to engage with government on issues related to human resources and organisational management practices, targeting individual workplaces to improve the use of skills is a challenge. Various internal and external factors shape how and why skills are used in the workplace, including local economic conditions, the broader value chain and current market demand. The effective use of skills in the workplace occurs through the interplay of a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including individual employers, employees, training providers, government departments, chambers of commerce, and unions (OECD/ILO, 2017[1]).

High-performance workplaces, human resources practices, and training

The organisation of work and how a job is performed can have significant implications for how skills are deployed in the workplace. Jobs that involve simple and repetitive tasks are less likely to result in strong engagement from employees, and therefore less likely to have employees fully applying their talent within the workplace. Work practices need to enhance the notions of career, participation, ownership and well-being, which are factors that make employees engaged or committed to the organisation and therefore willing to maximise the use of their skills (OECD/ILO, 2017[1]).

The higher use of skills is generally associated with high-performance work practices (HPWPs), which include employee award programmes, flexible job descriptions and working hours, regular performance appraisals, bonus pay, mentoring and leadership, and workplace training (OECD/ILO, 2017[1]; OECD, 2016[2]). For instance, workers who can choose how to sequence their tasks, plan their own activities, organise their time, and decide the speed of their own work tend to make better use of their reading, writing, numeracy, ICT and problem-solving skills at work than those who do not. When comparing Flanders to the OECD average, skills use at work is especially responsive to flexible working hours, particularly for ICT skills, followed by numeracy and problem-solving skills at work. Also the availability of training opportunities tends to be highly correlated with the frequent use of writing and ICT skills.

On average, across OECD countries, about one in four jobs apply HPWPs more than once a week. The average share of jobs adopting HPWPs is the highest in Denmark (42%), followed by Finland (41%), Sweden (40%) and Flanders (36%). The mean HPWP index of Flanders is also above the OECD average (Figure 4.6, Panel A). Flanders also performs strongly regarding the individual components of HPWPs, specifically work organisation and management practices. When considering work organisation only, about 32% of jobs in Flanders demonstrate high adoption of HPWPs, which is greater than the OECD average of 22%. There is a similar pattern for the mean HPWP index (Figure 4.6, Panel B). In terms of management practices, 90% of workers in Flanders receive bonuses, about 50% receive training, and 70% benefit from flexible working hours (Figure 4.6, Panel C). On average across OECD countries, 45% of workers receive bonuses, about 50% receive training, and 68% enjoy flexible working hours.

Figure 4.6. High-performance work practices

a. Share of workers in jobs where summary HPWP is above the top 25th percentile of the pooled distribution.

b. Average value, across jobs, of the HPWP index. The HPWP index is a sum scale of all subcomponents of HPWP (Panel A) or summing the scales of the work organisation subcomponents only (Panel B).

c. Share of workers receiving bonuses (bonus), having participated in training over the previous year (training) or enjoying flexibility in working hours (flexible working hours).

Source: OECD (2016[2]), OECD Employment Outlook 2016,


Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Flanders could potentially benefit more from the increased adoption of HPWPs than micro or large-sized firms. Figure 4.7 shows the average HPWP scores by firm size and industry in Flanders, based on PIAAC data. The distribution of HPWP scores by firm size follows a U-shape, where HPWPs are most commonly implemented among large firms with more than 251 employees, followed by micro-firms (1 to 10 employees). In general, SMEs are less likely to adopt HPWP practices.

Figure 4.7. High-performance work practice by firm size in Flanders
Average HPWP scores by firm size and industry

Source: OECD (2018[4]), OECD calculations based on OECD (2017) Survey of Adults Skills database (PIAAC) (2012, 2015),


The European Working Conditions Survey also provides insights into the adoption of HPWP. This survey provides a comprehensive overview of working conditions in Europe, enabling cross-country comparisons and long-term monitoring of activities related to skills use, including work organisation, learning and training, and employee autonomy. This survey considers workplace trends at the firm level. Some caution should be exercised when interpreting this data as it only captures Belgium and does not disaggregate to regional results for Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels Capital. When examining issues related to skills use in the workplace, indicators reporting on management styles and employee access to training opportunities provide particularly relevant insights into Belgium’s performance. These factors relate to high-performance work practices through firm and well-being performance (Box 4.1).

Results from the latest survey in 2015 show that, although generally performing in line with the European Union (EU) average, Belgium has yet to catch up with high performers in some relevant areas. For example, 57% of Belgian workers report always being involved in improving the work organisation or work processes of the department or organisation where they work (Figure 4.8). While this result is above the EU average (49%), it lags behind leading performers, such as the Netherlands (64%) and France (60%) (Eurofound, 2018[6]).

Box 4.1. The European Company Survey: five categories for human resources management practices in firms
  1. 1. Interactive and involving: joint decision making on daily tasks, moderately structured internal organisation, limited investment in human resources management (HRM) but extensive practices for direct participation.

  2. 2. Systematic and involving: top-down decision making on daily tasks, highly structured internal organisation, high investment in HRM, extensive practices for direct and indirect participation.

  3. 3. Externally oriented: high levels of collaboration and outsourcing, top-down decision making on daily tasks, moderately structured internal organisation, moderate investment in HRM, and little direct and indirect participation.

  4. 4. Top-down and internally oriented: top-down decision making on daily tasks, little collaboration and outsourcing, highly structured internal organisation, moderate investment in HRM, and moderately supported direct and indirect participation.

  5. 5. Passive management: top-down decision making on daily tasks, moderately structured internal organisation, hardly any HRM, and little direct and indirect participation.

Source: Eurofound (2018[6]), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – patterns, performance and well-being,

Figure 4.8. Involvement of employees in the improvement of the work, 2015
Distribution of answers to question 'Are you involved in improving the work organisation or work processes of the department or organisation?', OECD-EU countries

Note: Due to unavailability of data for Flanders, data for Belgium has been used in this chart.

Source: Eurofound (2015[7]), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being,


Workers in Belgium are also less likely to influence decisions that are important for their work: only 48% of workers noted that they can influence such decisions, substantially less than Finland (64%), the Netherlands (60%), Denmark (57%) and Norway (55%) (Figure 4.9) (Eurofound, 2018[6]).

Figure 4.9. Influence of employees on their work, 2015
Distribution of answers to question 'Can you influence decisions that are important for your work?' OECD-EU countries

Note: Due to unavailability of data for Flanders, data for Belgium has been used in this chart.

Source: Eurofound (2015[7]), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being,


Firms with the best outcomes in terms of management practices are classified as “systematic and involving” and “interactive and involving”, with the latter having the best performance in terms of workplace well-being. Looking across the EU28, these types of workplaces are more often present in large firms (defined by the survey as 250 workers or more) than SMEs (Figure 4.10) Around 55% of firms across the EU28 have these internal management characteristics and are therefore more likely to display high-performance work practices. The Belgian performance on this indicator is around the EU28 average, with about 29% of firms identified as systematic and involving, and 10% interactive and involving (Figure 4.11). Belgium trails behind leading countries, such as Sweden, Austria and Denmark, which tend to have a higher percentage of firms with these types of management practices.

The European Company Survey also considers other aspects of work organisation practices, such as collaboration and outsourcing arrangements of a firm, internal organisation and information management as well as decision making in daily tasks. Looking at these aspects, Belgium falls behind the European average when it comes to the percentage of firms that are “highly structured” within their management organisation. About 50% of Belgian firms are highly structured compared to 70% in Sweden, 65% in Austria, and about 60% in the Netherlands. Highly structured firms tend to be characterised by high levels of teamwork and enjoy greater employee well-being in the workplace.

Figure 4.10. Distribution of groups of establishments by structural characteristics, 2013
Percentage, EU countries

Source: Eurofound (2015[7]), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being,


Figure 4.11. Type of establishment, by country 2013
Percentage, selected EU countries

Note: Due to unavailability of data for Flanders, data for Belgium has been used in this chart.

Source: Eurofound (2015[7]), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being,


Belgium also falls around the EU average when it comes to the percentage of firms characterised as “joint establishments.” About 38% of Belgium firms are considered “joint establishments,” which is below leading EU countries, such as Finland (59%), Sweden (58%), and Denmark (55%). “Joint establishments” tend to provide employees more autonomy in making decisions in the workplace relative to “top-down” management structures where employees have limited influence on how they perform their job.

Lastly, Belgium also falls around the EU average in terms of the percentage of firms considered as “extensive and supported” where employees tend to be involved in joint decisions with management around organisational change. About 57% of firms in Belgium are considered “extensive and supported” which falls behind Sweden (80%), Denmark (70%), and Finland (73%).

Conflicts between management and employees often make it difficult to introduce programmes that foster better use of skills in the workplace. Skills use is also often positively influenced by reward systems that support learning and provide incentives for skills upgrading, as well as team-based activities to support mutual learning across an organisation (OECD/ILO, 2017[1]). About 70% of firms in Belgium offer paid time off to their employees for training, which is around the EU average, but falls behind leading European countries, such as Austria, Finland, and Sweden. Around 75% of firms offer on-the-job training, which is similar to the EU average.

Figure 4.12. Paid time off for training and on-the-job training, provided to at least some employees, by country (%), 2013
Percentage, selected EU countries

Note: Due to unavailability of data for Flanders, data for Belgium has been used in this chart.

Source: Eurofound (2015[7]), Third European Company Survey – Overview report: Workplace practices – Patterns, performance and well-being,


Signs of improvement in adoption of HPWP

While the European Working Conditions Survey and European Company Survey show mixed results for Belgium, there is recent research looking more specifically at Flanders which shows large improvements in providing access to learning opportunities at work for employees. Approximately half of enterprises with more than 10 employees now provides training to at least half of their employees, compared with 40% in 2014. (Stichting Innovatie & Arbeid, 2018[8]). In 2016, 82.5% of employees indicated having sufficient learning opportunities in the workplace, which is 5% higher than in 2004 (Bourdeaud’hui, Janssens and Vanderhaeghe, 2017[9]). Progress has been made for both men and women, in all age groups (excluding the oldest generations), and in most sectors and professions.

However, despite this positive trend, there are still many employees who are not positive about their learning opportunities at work – 17.5% reported that there are not enough training opportunities offered, and 6.1% reported a serious shortage of training opportunities. Moreover, there are still large differences between learning opportunities among employees. For instance, 34.5% of low-educated employees has insufficient opportunities in the workplace, compared with only 8.6% of the high-educated employees. This is problematic, since having insufficient learning opportunities is associated with less job security and less job satisfaction for the employee.

There is evidence of improvement in other aspects of HPWP as well. For example, teamwork has become more prevalent within firms – in 2018, more than 50% of surveyed employees reported being involved in teamwork in 1 in 4 enterprises with more than 10 employees, compared with less than 1 in 5 enterprises in 2011 (Stichting Innovatie & Arbeid, 2018[8]). While this is a positive trend, the share of Flemish firms offering job and/or task rotation for a majority of their employees remained stable at 1 in 10 firms.

Policies and practices for better using skills in Flanders

Improving the use of skills is possible through relevant policies that engage employers on aspects related to HPWPs and skills use. This section analyses current programmes in Flanders based on input from the stakeholder workshops, bilateral meetings, site visits and OECD analysis of international and national data sources and literature.

During the two OECD Skills Strategy workshops in May and September 2018, stakeholders in the groups assigned to the topic of skills use discussed a wide range of issues and proposed recommendations. The OECD has carefully considered each of the perspectives and recommendations and incorporated them as much as possible in the following section. However, due to the large number of ideas, and in order to go in-depth and provide concrete and elaborated recommendations, not all could be featured here. An overview of all the ideas that Flanders may wish to consider in the future can be found in Annex A. Some ideas are integrated into other chapters rather than in this chapter.

Raising awareness about the importance of skills use policies, including high-performance work practices

The Flemish government’s strategic outlook for the future is called Vision 2050. Vision 2050 is designed as a forward looking strategy that outlines the essential economic and social changes that will challenge government in the future, and emphasises the importance of knowledge and talent as driving forces for innovation and inclusive growth (Vlaamse Regering, 2017[3]). Vision 2050 states that no talent should remain unused in Flemish society, and that Flanders will stimulate the development of competences and talent by responding to the demand for new skills in a changing economy and society. Improving the effective use of skills is therefore part of the long-term vision in Flanders, but more can be done to translate this vision into skills use policies, including high-performance work practices. Flanders could support this by raising awareness about the importance of these policies.

There are a limited number of organisations within Flanders with a focus on encouraging aspects of HPWPs. The best example is Flanders Synergy which helps firms evolve through workplace restructuring, workplace learning and innovation (OECD, 2015[10]). Its objective is to help organisations create more attractive (workable) jobs and to become more agile, innovative and responsive to market needs. To this end, Flanders’ Synergy conducts scientific research and helps disseminate practical examples and success stories through networking, training, and new business models and tools. Some services for employers are subsidised by the Flemish government. Flanders Synergy has an advisory board that includes academic researchers and social partners, including unions, enterprises and consultants.

Another example of an organisation that contributes to a stronger knowledge base for the use of skills, is the Foundation Innovation and Labour (StIA, SERV), which carries out research commissioned by and for the Flemish social partners. The Foundation Innovation and Labour works around three thematic clusters: labour market and innovation in companies and organisations, workable work and longer careers, entrepreneurship, economy and innovation policy.

The SERV also helps to raise awareness about good work practices by actively supporting the adoption of ‘workable work’, including by considering it one of the targets for 2030 (SERV, 2016[11]). The concept covers topics directly or indirectly related to the intensive use of skills, including learning and motivation in the workplace, work stress, and the work-life balance of employees. The workability monitor 2016 (Vlaamse werkbaarheidsmonitor 2016) showed a downward trend in an aggregate ‘workability indicator’ (covering mental fatigue, well-being, learning opportunities, and work-life balance of employees) (Bourdeaud’hui, Janssens and Vanderhaeghe, 2017[9]). Between 2013 and 2016, the share of good quality jobs dropped, and the Action plan for workable work (Actieplan werkbaar werk) was introduced as a response to these results (SERV, 2017[12]). The Flemish partners, in cooperation with the Flemish government, created a plan to support employees, employers, entrepreneurs and organisations with the adoption of workable work practices. A number of concrete goals are included, including continuing to build a knowledge base, sharing information, motivating stakeholders, and stimulating action. A good example of providing information and support to employers about workable work practices is an extensive Flemish website on the topic (SERV, 2018[13]). It provides an overview of the concept of workable work, and supports employers to implement workable work practices by listing good practices, various tools and general information.

Going forward, there is a clear opportunity for the government in Flanders to engage more closely with firms to raise awareness about HPWPs. The government can play an important convening role to generate dialogue about why skills use is important and best practices within Flanders. There are also a number of influential stakeholders at the regional level, which could shape dialogue related to HPWPs and other aspects of skills use, such as the SERV and the VESOC. These regional organisations could be leveraged to examine how the government can work closer with firms on skills use policies.

Box 4.2. International examples to foster government leadership around job design and work organisation

One of the main barriers to improving the use of skills in the workplace is the low level of awareness among employers and other social partners about what can be done to stimulate better work organisation practices.

Australia: There are a number of government-led active efforts in Australia that aim to build the evidence base for why action is needed, while also sharing best practices about successful programmes. For example, the Centre for Workplace Leadership was established in 2013 and is dedicated to excellence in leadership research, improving the quality of leadership in Australian workplaces, and developing individual leaders. The centre aims to bridge the gap between research insights and leadership practices around work organisation and job design. It offers a number of customised programmes to help organisations engage employees and develop organisational leadership skills.

Finland: The Finnish National Workplace Development Programme, launched in 1995, aims to boost productivity and the quality of working life by developing and making full use of staff know-how and innovative power in Finnish workplaces. The programme was set up as a joint initiative between the Ministry of Labour and representatives of trade unions, employer confederations and entrepreneur organisations. The programme supports workplace-initiated projects, increases international exchange, and also aims to increase research on improving the quality of work.

Sources: OECD/ILO (2017[1]), Better Use of Skills in the Workplace: Why it matters for Productivity and Local Jobs,; Centre For Workplace Leadership (2018[14]), Centre For Workplace Leadership About,

Encouraging employers to reshape workplace practices and offer management training

In some cases, employers can take a leadership role and work directly with their employees to look at job design within their firm or organisation. These is some positive evidence of firms taking more leadership on ensuring the firm is a place for learning. For example, research of the Foundation Innovation and Labour (ICO2020) shows that there is improvement in the adoption of strategic skills policies within firms in Flanders (Stichting Innovatie & Arbeid, 2018[8]). As a policy goal for Pact2020 with broad qualitative targets, 15 criteria have been identified for strategic skills policies, varying from the use of competency profiles to career planning, teamwork and job rotation strategies. 55% of firms with 10 or more employees met more than half of these criteria selected to measure the adoption of strategic skills policies in 2018. This share is much higher than in 2014 (40.3%) and 2011 (37.6%). The proportion of companies adopting these practices has increased sharply in recent years in all sectors and both in small and large enterprises (Stichting Innovatie & Arbeid, 2018[8]). However, Flanders should not be complacent with the improvements, and the Flemish Government should continue encouraging employers to adopt even more of these policies and practices.

A good example of a firm reshaping its workplace practices is De Oever, a youth welfare agency based in Hasselt that provides intensive and temporary support for families facing complex social problems (De Oever, 2018[15]). Since 2014, the agency has implemented a number of internal reforms to provide employees with the autonomy to manage clients’ files. The point of the reform was to reorganise internal human resources management processes to give front-line staff more discretion in how they manage their tasks when performing their job. Before the reform, middle managers spent much of their day dealing with administrative tasks; whereas after the reform, they are more focused on coaching front-line staff and sharing knowledge within the company about best practices in managing children and families with complex problems. De Oever worked with a local consulting firm who advised on the most appropriate training programmes to help staff define a new role focused on client care, as well as how their skills could more effectively contribute to the agency’s strategic objectives. The company was also instrumental in transforming team leaders into coaches, and worked with each manager to perform a skills assessment to identify knowledge gaps. To measure the effectiveness of the reforms, De Oever interviewed clients about their satisfaction with their services, and preliminary outcomes show that clients became more satisfied.

To foster stronger employer leadership in stimulating HPWPs in Flanders, more needs to be done to engage chambers of commerce and industry associations. Government can play an important role in coordinating networks among employers so that they can share information on their management practices and think more critically about embedding HPWPs practices into their company culture. In some cases, direct funding support from the government can be a catalyst in driving change among employers.

Box 4.3. International examples of employer-led models to stimulate skills use in the workplace

There is evidence that managers who participate in industry or cross-industry associations are more likely to adopt high-performance work practices or employee training programmes. In this regard, sector-based strategies are often more successful in terms of grouping employers based on similar business practices and skill needs. For example, the healthcare sector is a natural target for skills utilisation policies given that it is often a sector with high turnover and lower wages.

Australia: A National Disability Insurance Scheme was introduced that requires healthcare service providers to adopt new business models and workforce management practices with the goal of moving to a more client-centred care model.

Korea: Larger firms can encourage the better use of skills through their supply chain management practices. The POSCO HRD Consortium addresses company human resources management issues by involving change management, whereby POSCO’s HRD Consortium provides leadership education to managers on developing a common company vision in partnership with employees. POSCO has a large number of suppliers and outsourcing contractors that deliver goods and services for the production of steel in Korea. These companies, which are mostly SMEs, are located in the supply chain of POSCO and are not direct competitors. Through the POSCO HRD Consortium, SMEs are encouraged to increase investments in their own education and training programmes. POSCO partners with local vocational education and training providers to provide 130 courses in technology, safety, information technology, and ethics, including an E-MBA curriculum for executive members.

Singapore: More direct interventions involve funding or other types of support for employers to reshape their workplace practices or move towards higher value added production. The Singapore Enterprise Training Support (ETS) scheme seeks to make skills development relevant to workplace performance and link skills acquisition and utilisation to retention. The scheme provides direct grants to employers, which can cover the costs of structured training programmes or develop training plans where a company has no previous history of workplace training.

Sources: OECD/ILO (2017[1]), Better Use of Skills in the Workplace: Why it matters for Productivity and Local Jobs,; Erickson and Jacoby (2003[16]), The effect of Employer Networks on Workplace Innovation and Training,

Recognising employers that create flexible career mobility opportunities

Career mobility programmes can play an important role in fostering employee engagement, motivation and better alignment of the workers’ skills with job tasks. Consequently, flexible career mobility opportunities could contribute to the more effective use of skills at work, and the Flemish Government should support the adoption of these programmes.

Bringing together firms on a sectoral or regional basis can stimulate more strategic thinking about human resource practices while also creating new career mobility opportunities for individuals. These are some examples of practice in this area in Flanders. Through contracts with sectoral bodies, often sectoral training funds, the Flemish government funds sector consultants who assist the development of adult learning programmes and human resources practices with the construction, retails, and logistics sectors. The stakeholders in the sector then work towards the common goals of “increasing diversity, synchronisation of education and labour, and lifelong learning” (Inspires, 2016[17]). The covenants also enable sectors to receive funding from the Flemish government to hire sectoral consultants to assist with the implementation of these plans, on the condition that the industry supplies the Flemish government with proof of annual monitoring and evaluation (Inspires, 2016[17]). These sector covenants also provide valuable training opportunities to low-skilled employees to undertake workplace training and apply their new skills in the workplace to foster more career mobility opportunities.

Another programme within Flanders that promotes career mobility opportunities is Project 3030, which is focused on the care sector (Vlaamse Social-Profitfondsen, 2018[18]). This initiative started in 2009 as a partnership between the association of services for family care and unions to improve the quality of jobs within the family care sector. The programme was introduced to respond to unfilled vacancies within the sector, while also offering career mobility opportunities to those working in entry-level positions. Funding for the project is provided through the Social Maribel Fund. Training is also provided on a modular basis to enable entry-level staff to progress within the sector to higher level positions. It includes additional modules to enable care workers to become nursing assistants and is provided to eligible employees within the sector to give them a chance to upgrade their qualification and improve their pay and working conditions.

Employers can take a leadership role in stimulating career mobility opportunities while also better linking their remuneration systems to workplace tasks. A good example in Flanders comes from Marine Harvest Pieters, which is one of the largest companies in the food services sector operating in more than 20 countries and employing more than 13 000 people. In 2010, Marine Harvest Pieters changed its remuneration model to reward skills as well as years of experience. To determine the remuneration of each employee, tasks are identified within each position and valued with a weight. The tasks are categorised in either complexity or strenuous labour clusters. Marine Harvest Pieters also recognises the need for lifelong learning even while employed, and has created training programmes to suit the needs and interests of employees. Marine Harvest Pieters pays for a variety of courses to help workers learn new hobbies and personal skills with the goal of helping employees move from one competency cluster to another. The courses can be followed outside of normal working hours and/or during employees’ free time. The classes also promote networking between colleagues, which fosters better teamwork and collaboration.

While these are good Flemish examples, still more needs to be done in Flanders to encourage firms to undertake similar internal company reforms. Studies show for instance that in 2018, almost half of the Flemish companies and organisations use competency profiles (Stichting Innovatie & Arbeid, 2018[8]), but there are large differences between different types of companies and organisations in terms of number of employees (more use in larger organisations) and sectors (more use in service and knowledge-based sectors of the economy) (Notebaert, 2015[19]). Moreover, career development planning for employees are only present in one in ten companies and organisations, and almost half of companies and organisations do not evaluate performance of employees. In general, companies and organisations that implement these types of competency and career planning practices tend to be more innovative and have higher revenue, and the Flemish Government should continue to support companies and organisations to adopt these practices. The Government could for instance play a role by recognising employers with good human resources management practices that support career mobility opportunities (Box 4.4).

Box 4.4. Recognising good employers that provide quality jobs and mobility opportunities

United States: The Hitachi Foundation’s Good Companies @Work programme recognises “Pioneer Employers” that provide quality jobs and mobility opportunities to the middle-class for their lower-wage workers, while remaining competitive in their industries.

Australia: The Australian Training Awards recognise small enterprises that have achieved excellence in the provision of nationally recognised training to employees that have improved productivity and profitability.

Scotland: Employers can sign up for the Scottish Business Pledge if they pay a living wage and meet the requirements of at least two other pledge elements (and make a commitment to meeting the other requirements over the long term). These requirements include not using exploitative zero hours contracts; supporting progressive workforce engagement; investing in youth; making progress on diversity and gender balance; committing to an innovation programme; pursuing international business opportunities; and playing an active role in the community. As of April 2016, almost 250 businesses had signed up for the pledge, accounting for over 57 000 Scottish jobs.

Source: OECD/ILO (2017[1])Better Using Skills in the Workplace: Why it Matters for Productivity and Jobs,

Encouraging better human resources management practices to address labour market shortages

Both skills shortages and unfilled vacancies indicate that there is sufficient room in the labour market to improve the use of the skills. When employers report skills shortages or vacancies, it is important for policy makers to work closer with these firms to look at the type of jobs that are going unfilled. This requires public policy to move beyond the traditional approach of “firefighting” to fill skills shortages and to look more fundamentally at the design of a job within a firm. In this area, public employment services can play an important role given the close relationship they often have in working with employers to meet their human resources needs.

In Flanders, VDAB (the public employment service) offers a number of activation and employment facilitation programmes to both jobseekers and employers. Relative to other OECD countries, VDAB’s employer engagement services are comprehensive, with the ability to advise companies on recruitment and human resourcing needs. An interesting initiative within VDAB is the establishment of the Competent system (Box 4.5). This example of a close relationship with employers on job vacancies demonstrates the detailed insights that VDAB has regarding company human resources practices

Box 4.5. VDAB Competent System

The objective of the Competent system is to help employers advertise vacancies that are systematically detailed and sufficiently comprehensive, and match these vacancies to jobseekers with equally comprehensive competency profiles to generate closer and more accurate matches in VDAB’s systems. Through VDAB’s system, employers need to register to be able to post vacancies and to collaborate with VDAB to access the jobseeker profiles. Employers who publish a vacancy also record, in detail, the competences required for the vacancy on offer. To aid this process, the system provides a list of competences generally associated with the profession, against which an employer registers the vacancy. Employers can also add other competences for a specific vacancy to create accurate job listings.

Source: European Commission (2017[20]), Summary Report on VDAB Innovation Lab,

While some work is taking place, more effort could still be made to identify employers that need targeted human resources planning support. Given that this type of work goes beyond the traditional role of public employment services which are mostly concerned with filling job vacancies, it would be important for the VDAB performance management system to recognise and reward local offices who are working directly with employers to look at work organisation and job design practices. VDAB could work closer with the local chambers of commerce across different cities in Flanders to help firms think more critical about the design of jobs and how better management practices could help fill potential recruitment challenges and skills shortages.

Box 4.6. Employment services in Quebec, Canada work actively with employers on human resources practices

In Quebec, Canada, Employment Quebec (Emploi-Québec) has been focusing on working with employers on human resource management practices under the assumption that employers who have good human resource practices tend to have better operations with more stable and productive employees. In the town of Mauricie, the employment office has recently made efforts to assist employers to attract and retain workers by developing guides and human resource management support tools. The local chamber of commerce is also working alongside the employment office to increase exposure of management practices to their members and identify firms that are having recruitment difficulties potentially due to the poor quality of jobs on offer.

Source: (OECD, 2014[21]) OECD Reviews on Local Job Creation: Employment and Skills Strategies in Canada,

Summary and recommendations

Drawing on the evidence presented in this chapter, Flanders could consider the following recommendations to strengthen skills use in the workplace:

  • Raise awareness of the importance of skills use in the workplace. The Flanders government with social partners should consider how to engage more firms on skills use policies and disseminate information about good practices and innovation within firms. The goal of actions in this area would be to develop new partnerships with employers to promote high-performance work practices and encourage managers to think more critically about work organisation.

  • Examine incentives to employers to reshape their workplace and encourage more management training, especially among SMEs. In many cases, employers can take a leadership role to develop management training plans, which encourage greater employee autonomy, work organisation, as well as job rotation strategies. The chambers of commerce can be particularly important in networking firms, especially SMEs, to share good management practices. In some cases, direct government funding can provide incentives for firms to reshape their workplaces and embed better management practices within the firm. This would be especially important for firms that have not traditionally participated in training programmes previously.

  • Promote flexible career mobility opportunities within sectors and firms. Career mobility programmes can play an important role in fostering employee engagement, increased productivity, and teamwork. The goal of this action by firms, unions and education providers would be to encourage firms to experiment with career mobility programmes that allow workers to test new roles within a firm as well as to enable individuals to take on different tasks at another firm. This also includes looking at how pay and remuneration systems can be adjusted to reward greater employee autonomy in the workplace.

  • Examine company working conditions and human resource practices to help fill job vacancies and address potential skills shortages. While employer leadership is critical for stimulating high-performance work practices, employment services can also play an active role in working closer with firms to develop human resources management tools. Public employment services can work alongside the chambers of commerce in Flanders to identify companies having recruitment difficulties because of the type of jobs on offer while also networking firms to share best practices about human resources management.


[9] Bourdeaud’hui, R., F. Janssens and S. Vanderhaeghe (2017), Vlaamse werkbaarheidsmonitor 2016 - werknemers [Flemish workability monitor 2016 employees], Stichting Innovatie & Arbeid - SERV, Brussels,

[14] Centre for Workplace Leadership (2018), Centre for Workplace Leadership About, (accessed on 28 November 2018).

[15] De Oever (2018), Phone Interview with the Director,

[16] Erickson, C. and S. Jacoby (2003), “The Effect of Employer Networks on Workplace Innovation and Training”, ILR Review, Vol. 56/2, pp. 203-223,

[6] Eurofound (2018), European Working Conditions Survey - Skills, discretion and other cognitive factors, (accessed on 28 November 2018).

[7] Eurofound (2015), 3rd European company survey : [overview report] : workplace practices : patterns, performance and well-being, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg,

[20] European Commission (2017), Summary Report on VDAB Innovation Lab,

[17] Inspires (2016), Sector Covenants, (accessed on 28 November 2018).

[19] Notebaert, S. (2015), Competentie-en opleidingsbeleid bij de Vlaamse ondernemingen en organisaties [Competency and training policy at Flemish companies and organizations], Stichting Innovatie & Arbeid - SERV, Brussels,

[4] OECD (2018), Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) - OECD, (accessed on 22 February 2018).

[2] OECD (2016), OECD Employment Outlook 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[5] OECD (2016), Skills matter: further results from the survey of adult skills.

[10] OECD (2015), Employment and Skills Strategies in Flanders, Belgium, OECD Reviews on Local Job Creation, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[21] OECD (2014), Employment and Skills Strategies in Canada, OECD Reviews on Local Job Creation, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] OECD/ILO (2017), Better Use of Skills in the Workplace: Why It Matters for Productivity and Local Jobs, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[13] SERV (2018), Working on workable work [Werken aan werkbaar werk], Sociaal Economische Raad van Vlaanderen,

[12] SERV (2017), Actieplan werkbaar werk: Samen een versnelling hoger voor werkbaar werk [Action plan for workable work: Moving up a gear together for workable work], Sociaal Economische Raad van Vlaanderen,

[11] SERV (2016), SERV-Platformtekst, Vlaanderen 2030: Een uitgestoken hand [SERV Platform text, Flanders 2030: An outstretched hand], (accessed on 07 January 2019).

[8] Stichting Innovatie & Arbeid (2018), Rapport ICO 2020: Onderweg naar een strategisch competentiebeleid in Vlaanderen [Report ICO 2020: On the way to a strategic competence policy in Flanders],

[3] Vlaamse Regering (2017), Visie 2050. Een langetermijnstrategie voor Vlaanderen (Vision 2050. A long-term strategy for Flanders),

[18] Vlaamse Social-Profitfondsen (2018), Het Fonds Sociale Maribel 318.02 voor de diensten Gezinszorg van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap [The Social Maribel Fund 318.02 for the Family Care services of the Flemish Community], (accessed on 23 October 2018).

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