Belgium walks the talk on digital government


The award-winning public employment and vocational agency, VDAB, is walking the talk on digital government. The organisation’s chief information officer, Paul Danneels, shared insights around digital disruption at the FST Government New Zealand conference in Wellington.   

The Belgium government is tackling the challenges of digital disruption. Online and mobile apps are driving vocational training and job searches, according to the Brussels-based CIO of VDAB, Paul Danneels.

Danneels, a keynote speaker at the FST Government New Zealand Conference held in Wellington 2nd August, said the agency’s award-winning vocational training program has a following of one million people across Belgium.

The agency’s program is recognised by the European CIO Network. As a 2015 winner for innovation, VDAB is taking lead with open, innovative and agile services.

International partners include the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the popular Cousera program. This offers free online classes from 140+ top universities and educational organisations.

The VDAB has an annual budget of 700 million Euros, together with 5,000 staff at 100 locations, and 40 training centres. “There’re one million people following our vocational training programs, at any given time. We have nearly 250,000 job seekers on our books.”

An Innovation Lab enables staff to create digital products, experiment with ideas, and take products to market. “We support an attitude of experimentation and entrepreneurship,” Danneels said.

The lab set-up is an autonomous business unit where co-design and innovation is encouraged. “Our focus is to start small and think big. We want to develop capabilities, but also encourage being able to fail fast.”

Taking a lab approach means disruption is separated from the existing organisation. “This involves creating an autonomous business unit, and separating planning, budgeting or governance. The teams report directly to the CIO and CEO and are supported by a board of directors.”

Digital disruption involves experimenting with new ways of organising and working. “This is about the customer journey, user-testing, and beta-testing. The feedback determines feature selection and launch. We also collaborate with external partners, and support entrepreneurship with a start-up mentality.”

The VDAB works closely with job seekers, recruiters, and private companies on the lookout for talent. Its data matching capabilities go back 10 years, enabling participants to match supply and demand.

This data tracks market trends and helps tailor training programs. Algorithms offer more precise information around emerging trends and opportunities.

This data is shared with job seekers, enabling them to tailor learning needs with market demand. “We do not take a Big Brother approach to presenting this information,” Danneels said. “We present them with the options, as in the available choices, and training programs that resonate with these choices.”

Using a scorecard, job seekers can “look into the mirror,” and see how they score with their job search. These score cards may track being able to move between locations, education, dream jobs, possible jobs, accessible jobs, or the concrete offers.

A “digital coach” helps map career paths, offers virtual mentoring, and shadows job seekers. The look-and-feel of these services is intuitive. Sectors being tracked include government, hospitality, manufacturing, robotics, or traditional IT.