How can we strengthen Wallonia’s position as a leader in the chemical and life sciences sector at European and world level? Through talent! The sector faces three challenges in this area: growth, demographics, and technologies. In 2019, essenscia wallonie launched a talent masterplan to help sector companies rise to these challenges.
In 2020, the number of direct jobs in the chemical, plastics and life sciences industry in Wallonia amounted to over 28,800. Consequently, the sector represents 23% of industrial employment, compared to 20% ten years ago. Over the past 4 years, the chemical and life sciences industry has created nearly 2,500 direct jobs and still plans to recruit massively until at least 2023. How can we attract and train these many talents?
The average age of workers within the chemicals and life sciences industry is high. One third of employees within the sector are over 50 years old. 5,500 are expected to retire over the next 10 years. How can we ensure that these employees are replaced? And how can knowledge and expertise be passed on within companies?
The (bio)pharmaceutical and chemical industry is currently undergoing the 4.0 transformation, involving the digitalisation of production processes, automation, robotisation, etc. How can all current and future workers be supported to align with these new technologies, requiring new technology skills, new work environments and new working methods?
To meet these major challenges, essenscia wallonie has drawn up a talent masterplan for 2019-2023. Many partnerships have already been established with the authorities, educational players, and the training ecosystem, to develop a series of actions. The approach is global and through collaboration, aims to optimise, structure, and complement existing responses to companies’ needs.
One example is the first phase of the expansion of the aptaskil skills centre (formerly Cefochim), which will allow around a hundred more jobseekers to be trained in occupations in short supply in the sector and increase the capacity to take on more workers. With the support of the Forem and Actiris, two editions of sectoral Jobdays have already taken place. They attracted around 2,500 Belgian and foreign candidates.
With Wallonie Compétences d’avenir (WCA), the sector is developing training solutions to meet the needs of candidates in occupations where there is a shortage of operators and production technicians. The strategy involves a redesign of training programmes to achieve a faster rate of employability and access to employment and also the development of a network of partners to increase training capacity in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation.
In addition to these “short-term” solutions to meet companies’ talent needs, essenscia wallonie is also working with vocational education and higher education to develop long-term and sustainable solutions through collaboration between education and industry. The sector is working with three higher education institutions to offer additional work-study courses for professions that have been in structural shortage for more than 10 years. If the institutions receive accreditation, two new work-linked bachelor’s degrees should be available from September 2022: one for (bio)production, the other for quality control. IFAPME has also responded to our appeal and, in collaboration with aptaskill, has been offering a diploma course for laboratory assistants since September 2021.
The federation is also working with the Agence du Numérique, dedicated to digital transformation in Wallonia, to bring companies into the digital revolution and to deploy appropriate solutions for strategies to upgrade (upskilling) and/or reorient (reskilling) the skills of today’s and tomorrow’s workers. The digitalisation of training is also a priority for the sector in order to diversify learning methods and make them more effective, better aligned with typical working conditions and the daily reality of future workers.