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Continuous training crucial for the future

  • Continuous vocational training of employees is crucial for success in a highly innovative and skill-based sector such as the chemical and life sciences industry.
  • More than 54,000 people or 62% of all those employed in the chemical and life sciences industry participated in training in 2013 compared with 45% for the manufacturing industry as a whole. Additional analysis shows no substantial difference in participation rates between men and women in the sector.
  • In 2013, companies in the chemical and life sciences industry spent no less than €147 million on continuous training of their employees. Two thirds of this amount was spent on formal training and the balance on informal (on-the-job) training. This means that 2.1% of total wage costs was spent on continuous training and education programmes in the sector, in line with the 1.9% target agreed between the social partners (employers and trade unions) in 1998. A report on competitiveness and employment published in July 2013 by a group of experts points out the insufficient consideration of some training cost components such as remuneration of personnel while in training (Personnel Absence Cost). Companies’ training efforts would be much bigger according to results from a survey carried out on European level (CVTS), which takes those elements better into account.  The financial index would be 2.6% of total wage costs in 2010 in the chemical, rubber, plastics and construction material sector for formal training only.
  • Social partners of the chemical and life sciences industry co-manage Co-Valent, the training funds of the sector, with a special focus on the promotion of training and skills development within SMEs.
  • The chemical and life sciences industry has two dedicated training centres: ACTA and Cefochim. ACTA, which is located in Antwerp, organises training on automatisation and process technology. Cefochim, located in Seneffe, is a training centre for jobs in production, maintenance and research in the chemical and biopharmaceutical industries. Cefochim has also developed a system of work-linked training for job-seekers. As well, the social partners from the plastics processing industry in Flanders rely on a broad offer of tailor-made training for the sector via PlastIQ.
  • The chemical and biopharmaceutical industry is the first sector in Wallonia to implement a system of cooperative education for a master degree in analytical science combining high school education with practical work experience in companies on a 50/50 basis. The sector also offers traineeships in ‘production management’ and ‘facility management’. Also in Flanders a project ‘werkplekleren’ (Avogadro) has been initiated in close collaboration with two high schools and four companies in the Antwerp chemical cluster.

Sector initiatives

Co-valent banks on talent

Developing talents creates chemistry and life sciences

Co-valent is the training fund for the chemicals, plastics and life sciences sector. The name was not chosen randomly. Covalent bonding is, in fact, a chemical bond that involves the common sharing of one or several electron pairs between atoms.

In its function of network organisation, the training fund bonds a variety of partners around a common mission.

In order to be in a position to realize this mission, Co-valent supports and stimulates the skills development and employability of (future) workers and disadvantaged groups within the sector. This we achieve by investing – together with our partners – in a sustainable long-term employability programme for workers and a greater inflow into the sector. To that end, we concentrate our efforts specifically on providing suitably adapted training courses for jobseekers and youngsters and giving active guidance and assistance to disadvantaged groups.

The services that Co-valent provides to companies within our sector consists of three major pillars:

  • support during the development of a long-term career policy;
  • training of workers in the sector;
  • subsidies for incurred training expenses.

Towards a long-term sustainable career policy

Workers constitute an organisation’s primary capital. The ability to attract and develop collaborators with the right talents and to keep them motivated is a major determinant in the organisation’s success. To achieve that goal, a well thought-out and purposeful career policy is essential.

It is thus essential that companies focus on competency management, career policy, mentoring systems, diversity planning, workplace learning or welcome policy. To this end, Co-valent supports employers in the realisation of these HR projects by offering correct information and personalized advice. The advice cheque likewise provides SMEs with financial assistance in the course of these projects.

A broad assortment of training programmes based on contemporary topics

  • Will a collaborator be offered opportunities for advancement when he follows a course in measurement and control techniques?
  • Are there workers in the organisation that have not yet taken the ‘Forklift’ safety training course?
  • Would a new shift foreman benefit from following a course in how to provide ‘a coaching style of leadership’?
  • Has an employee already for some time been requesting to have his knowledge of Excel updated?

Co-valent organises throughout the entire year training courses that are oriented towards technical aspects and sector requirements, as well as general programmes where topics such as social skills, leadership, and IT are being taught. Moreover, these programmes are offered free of charge to collaborators that are employed under the Joint Committee 116 (blue-collar workers) or 207 (employees).

Subsidies for training expenses

Companies that organise courses independently with an internal trainer or an external instructor can afterwards request subsidies from Co-valent to defray both the expenses incurred to employ the trainer and the wages of the participants. All training courses that are aimed at reinforcing the skills of the collaborators and enhancing their employability are eligible for such subsidies.

Numbers tell the tale

  • In 2014, more than 100 workers followed a free training ‘Forklift’ safety course via Co-valent.
  • In 2014, 1,792 workers from the sector (for a total of nearly 30,000 hours) followed a free training programme at Co-valent.
  • In 2014, 232 companies took advantage of the free training programme offer.
  • In 2014, 327 subsidies were paid to employers within the sector.
  • In 2014, 206.693 hours of in-company training were subsidized by Co-valent.
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The added value of sector-specific training centres ACTA and PlastIQ

employee trainig and education Sectorale opleidingsinstellingen ACTA en PlastIQ-1

Our industry has two sector-specific training centres in Flanders and contributes to their funding via the educational fund Co-valent. Acta focuses on process industries, while PlastiQ targets the plastics processing sector.


A few years ago ACTA moved into a brand new building with state-of-the-art training infrastructure in Brasschaat, near Antwerp. Training programmes provided here include courses on automation and process technology. ACTA primarily aims at creating an optimum learning situation for employees, unemployed people and students, based on the principle that operators who are trained here should be employable immediately. For this reason the training takes place in a highly realistic setting, with plenty of attention to safety.

In addition ACTA supports several other workplace learning projects. For instance: pupils in their last years of secondary school are given an opportunity to learn about the installations and the functioning of the chemical industry.


Cefochim, located in Seneffe (Wallonia), is a flagship training center in the chemistry and life sciences sector. Each year this center trains 3.000 people from various backgrounds.

A first of its kind in Belgium, Cefochim offers training in unique sterile rooms with replica instruments used in real life working conditions. It thus provides true-to-life coaching in chemistry and biopharmacy to employees, jobseekers, professors and students alike. Over 90% of the jobseekers find employment after this training.


PlastIQ was founded by the social partners from the industry and focuses on skills development of current as well as future employees in the plastics industry. New products and technology develop so quickly that industry-specific activities become increasingly important. This applies both to the training offer for employees and to the plastics engineering courses provided by the general education system. PlastiQ is active in both fields.

On the one hand, it works towards developing a high-quality training offer for employees and jobseekers. It does so in close cooperation with the partners who represent them. On the other hand, the organisation also works closely with suppliers of education. For instance: it provided four central schools with modern infrastructure for plastics processing machines. This project gives more than 1.000 pupils from all over Flanders an opportunity to take courses in a wide range of processing methods and techniques each year. In addition, the collaboration with the Flemish Service for Employment and Vocational Training (VDAB) enables the organisation of training courses for jobseekers from these locations.

2015 saw the launch of the project ‘Plastic Is A Mission’ or KIEM, a dual educational track for jobseekers that alternates learning at the educational centre (the VDAB skills centre or one of the central schools) with workplace learning at a company. This educational track covers plastics engineering as well as general technical skills. The objective of these educational initiatives is clear, namely for graduates to find a job in the industry as soon as possible after graduating. The results are inspiring: 100% of the first group of graduates already found a job in the industry.

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