Crevits looks east for answers to youth unemployment

The German-speaking Community in Belgium might just have the right tools to solve the problem of youth unemployment in Flanders. That’s what Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits is hoping for as she seeks to strengthen the educational co-operation between the two communities.

At a recent meeting with her German Community counterpart, Harald Möllers, Crevits outlined a plan that would improve the exchange of information between the two cabinets and facilitate reforms to secondary education over the next two years. The co-operation builds on an agreement from 2001 that focuses on policy harmonisation and recognition of foreign diplomas and certificates.

Now the minister plans to take a closer look at the German-speaking community’s Learn and Work programme, which combines courses with work experience. “Ninety percent of young people who take part in this initiative find jobs within six weeks of completing the programme,” she says. “That’s something we can draw inspiration from.”

Based on the German model of dual learning, students receive technical training at local companies that counts as an integral part of their curriculum. Close to 1,000 German-speaking Belgian students and more than 300 companies are involved.

“I would like to find out what kind of practical skills and qualifications the programme gives young people to prepare them for entry into the labour market,” Crevits says.

As part of the Learn and Work programme, the German-speaking community also organises an orientation week to help students choose a technical profession that feels right for them. Around the Easter holidays, pupils visit prospective employers and learn about different positions and the responsibilities they entail.

“It’s an interesting concept,” says Crevits. “There’s even a Girls Day, focusing on opportunities for female students.”

A similar initiative already exists in Flanders but has not proven very popular with students. Last year, Flanders Today reported that the number of Flemish pupils involved in the Learn and Work programme had dropped to about 3,000 from 7,000 a decade ago.

Crevits says the co-operation agreement will help her draw lessons from the more successful experience of the German-speaking community.

She will now visit the German Community with work minister Philippe Muyters to see what the programme looks like in practice. Their primary focus will be on finding out what criteria companies must meet to participate. According to Crevits, this is the first step in making the Learn and Work programme into a system with actual benefits for students.

The co-operation will also seek to provide aspiring German-speaking teachers with internship opportunities in Flanders. Möllers says his administration wants to establish common school evaluations and will closely observe the upcoming reforms to secondary education in Flanders to see if they would be appropriate for his Community.

Both ministers say they are pleased to continue working together. “It is in our joint interest to ensure that young people have easier access to higher education and better employment opportunities in the future,” Crevits says. “The renewed co-operation moves us further in that direction.”

Originally published in Flanders Today

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