More urgent than ever: How do we address future labour shortages within the industry?

That the Flemish labour market is under severe pressure is not news. Due to an ageing population, the labour force is decreasing. There is an evolution of the labour market in which we will move from a situation of structural oversupply to a situation of major structural shortage. What challenges do we face and what is the long-term solution? In this episode of our podcast Sustainable Innovation, Geert Van Hootegem of HIVA-KU Leuven, Joris Peeters, head of digitalisation at ZF Group and Dirk Torfs of Flanders Make discuss the scale of the problem, its urgency and possible long-term solutions.

The tightness in the labour market is multifaceted. On the one hand, there is a decrease in the number of young people entering the labour market, while on the other, older people are leaving the labour market. In addition, technological advances and the need for sustainability create further challenges. For this reason, companies need skilled workers to support these advances and adapt to changing demands. After all, the skills needed today differ significantly from those of the past, requiring additional training and retraining.


For many companies, labour shortages are already a pressing issue. Not only is it tangible in quantitative terms, qualitative shortages are also starting to take their toll. Indeed, it is both a challenge to find enough people for available positions and people with the right skills. Customers increasingly demand sustainable products and processes, which require new approaches and skills. We therefore see a growing need for training, both internal and external, to bridge the gap and meet the changing demands.

The underlying causes of the shortages

The labour market shortage can be traced back to demographic shifts that began about 83 years ago. The low birth rate during World War II was followed by an offsetting increase in births after the war. As a result, a large number of people entered the labour market from the 1960s onwards. However, structural factors such as falling birth rates and an ageing population have contributed to the current shortage. This transition from oversupply to labour shortage has evolved over time and is now reaching a critical point.

Taking up the challenge

Companies like ZF Wind Power are strongly feeling the effects of this labour shortage. The need for specialised mechanical skills creates challenges in finding suitable candidates. Meeting this challenge requires a multi-faceted approach. Joris Peeters states: "It is a challenge to deal with this creatively: how do you do it yourself and how do you do it together with education and with research institutes to have and continue to have those right skills?"

Investing in technological advances is crucial, but emphasising emotional intelligence and teamwork should not be forgotten either. The ability to collaborate, analyse quickly and find collective solutions is vital in an ever-changing landscape.

Reforming education and training

To effectively address the labour shortage, the education system needs to change. Since we always had the luxury of having an abundance in the labour market, we saw a resort to specialisation. After 60 years, this same specialisation has now led to scarcity, creating a greater need for collaborative skills. Dirk Torfs comments on this: "ready knowledge is important, but if I can't do that together with others, we won't have enough momentum to anticipate the changes coming our way and provide solutions."

The solution? Education needs to focus on fostering teamwork and collaboration, in addition to skills that focus on market changes. And this by no means needs to be facilitated only by educational institutions. Companies can also contribute by offering tailor-made training programmes to both new and existing employees. Investing in people and offering opportunities to grow will be crucial to retain talent and ensure a skilled workforce.

Time to act

The labour shortage within the sector is an urgent problem that requires immediate attention. By understanding the root causes, recognising the urgency and implementing strategies such as educational reforms and targeted training programmes, we can effectively address this challenge. Collaboration between businesses, educational institutions and research institutes is the key to closing the skills gap and securing a sustainable and competitive industry for the future.

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Miranda de Ruiter, Communication Officer

Miranda de Ruiter is a communications specialist at Flanders Make. Passionate about technological innovation and sustainability, she creates both copy and the Flanders Make podcast on these topics. With one goal: to share insights and stories that inspire industry growth.