• Luca Volonté and Laura Lodeiro

Brussels, Belgium — Kitty Weyn embarked on her professional journey with VDAB, the Public Employment Service of Flanders, over two decades ago. Her initial role involved teaching Dutch to foreign jobseekers and employees, a task she approached with admirable adaptability, crafting tailored teaching materials to suit diverse workplace contexts.

Through each phase of her career, Kitty’s versatility has shone through, from organizing impactful events for HR professionals and labour market innovators to her current role collaborating with the Strategic Account Manager International Relations, focusing on the intricate realm of labour migration.

VDAB, a cornerstone of Flanders’ labour ecosystem, plays a pivotal role in mobilizing the local workforce and assisting employers grappling with skills shortages. “The main focus of our organization is to help unemployed people find a quality job that adheres to rigorous standards of decent and fair work by matching them with vacancies, providing training, and coaching them,” Kitty explains. “Seeing as the government hopes for at least 80 per cent of all people of working age to have a job, VDAB not only focuses on registered jobseekers but also reaches out to others.”

"We try to motivate and help them enter or re-enter the labour market."

In response to the pressing issue of labour deficits, and in addition to the activation and upskilling of the local workforce, VDAB is increasingly looking at international recruitment beyond European borders. This is a progressive step toward addressing workforce gaps, which aligns with VDAB’s “concentric recruitment” strategy. Kitty’s introduction to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and its Displaced Talent for Europe (DT4E) project took place at this year’s Global Refugee Labour Mobility Summit in Amman, Jordan, where she met policymakers and employers championing displaced workers. Aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, DT4E provides complementary labour migration pathways for those displaced, while meeting the needs of employers faced with skill shortages.

Immersed in the project’s potential, Kitty’s involvement was a natural progression. “I was hugely impressed by the legislative changes countries had made to open up pathways for regular migration for refugees,” she recalls, referring to non-conventional avenues to protection that are complementary to refugee resettlement. “Employers now praise the talent they attract and continue to recruit from this pool.” Kitty was also very touched by the stories of displaced talents whose lives had drastically changed thanks to new job opportunities.

Partnering with DT4E seamlessly aligned with Kitty’s professional orientation and role within VDAB. The initiative’s goal to create pathways for displaced individuals to access Belgium’s labour market resonates deeply with VDAB’s mandate of creating a balance on the regional labour market, which is currently experiencing critical shortages. DT4E aims to contribute to achieving this balance in a way that benefits refugees, businesses, host communities, and the country’s economy at large. The initiative complements governmental endeavours aimed at mobilizing the unemployed local workforce.

VDAB’s Kitty Weyn hopes for a future where Belgian employers embrace positive change by welcoming displaced talents. Photo: IOM/Laura Lodeiro

Kitty’s role in promoting labour migration solutions within VDAB speaks to her commitment to bridging the gap between untapped talent and employers. “Over the course of this collaboration, I was able to identify multiple benefits: to enter DT4E means to work with trusted partners who provide professional support and make every effort to connect skilled individuals with employers, while the latter receive tailored support offered by IOM and its partners throughout the recruitment process.”

To that end, IOM and its partners have embedded protection safeguards in this initiative, including the non-refoulement principle, as displaced talents are in need of international protection. In addition, DT4E offers orientation and integration support for talents and invests in awareness-raising efforts and guidance for employers who are considering hiring displaced talents.

Looking ahead, Kitty envisions a future where Belgian employers catalyze a positive movement by welcoming displaced talents into their workforce: “Employers who dare recruit displaced people contribute to building a positive movement that will inevitably expand and allow vulnerable people to access work opportunities and build a sustainable future,” she says.

"In time, the demand for labour will grow faster than the supply."

DT4E envisions a world where displaced individuals unlock their potential and embark on a journey towards prosperity based on their skills. Photo: IOM/Laura Lodeiro

VDAB’s contribution to this transformative initiative holds the promise of fostering inclusivity and shaping a more diverse and equitable labour landscape for all. “Hiring a displaced person means taking them and their family out of displacement and restoring their right to work. Employers build a diverse and inclusive workplace with highly competent candidates as well as positive associations with their brand. As a public employment service, I hope we can contribute to that.”

VDAB’s support to DT4E reflects the comprehensive, whole-of-society approach embraced by project partners in Belgium. The collaboration of sector federations, social partners, education institutions, and civil society, alongside public services, and employers, is instrumental in making DT4E a success. These collaborations unite policy experts and field practitioners, strategically facilitating the matching process between employers and talents.

The project has already made substantial strides and has to date actively engaged more than 70 Belgian employers through bilateral meetings, general information sessions, and dedicated webinars. The quality of profiles shortlisted by employers has garnered positive feedback from employers, with one displaced talent already offered a position in logistics.

“We met with amazing candidates,” one Belgian employer explained. “In the beginning, we were a bit nervous because we didn’t really know what to expect, but we were very impressed with their language skills and education level.”

With over two decades of experience, Kitty is crafting pathways between untapped talent and employers through initiatives like DT4E. Photo: IOM/Laura Lodeiro

IOM’s Displaced Talent for Europe (DT4E) initiative is funded by the European Union and implemented by IOM Belgium and Luxembourg in Portugal, Belgium, Ireland, and the UK, in collaboration with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), immigration law firm Fragomen, the Belgian Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil), and Alto Comissariado para as Migrações (ACM). To implement the project in Belgium, IOM also collaborates with policy actors such as the Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Social Affairs and Public Health, the Flemish Ministry for Home Affairs, Civic Integration and Equal Opportunities, and the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons.

This story was written by Luca Volonté and Laura Lodeiro with IOM Belgium and Luxembourg.

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SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth