If we want our companies to remain competitive and future-proof in this rapidly changing world, lifelong learning must become a right for employees and a duty for employers. Learning doesn’t stop after graduation. On the contrary: working in a digital economy means actively participating in a continuous learning process, both for employees and the companies they work for. It is high time that Belgian companies, academic institutions and the government join forces in embracing lifelong employability or sustainable employability and making this concrete. If we don’t, we will have to settle for a seat at the back.

A job at Telenet? No, it’s not on our wish list. I was shocked last year when I asked my son (who recently graduated from university) and some of his fellow students in civil engineering which companies they would like to work for. Telenet was not one of them. ‘The Big Four’ were, as well as some other well-known international companies. “What do they expect from your future employer?”, I asked them. They agreed unequivocally: sufficient autonomy and as little hierarchy as possible, the possibility of continuous development and further training and the opportunity to help bring about change.

To me personally, what my son and his friends said was another sign that the transformation process we are working on within Telenet is not coming a moment too soon. Not only that: it should also serve as a wake-up call for many other Belgian companies. How do we prepare not only young people but also our current employees for the jobs of the future? And how do we remain attractive as an employer in a sector that is continually grappling with a war for talent?

Extensive digitization and an increasing customer demand for digital services are forcing companies from all sectors to make far-reaching changes to their way of working. To remain competitive in comparison to today’s Amazons, Netflixes and Ubers, we need to build agile organizations that can respond quickly to changes in the digital economy. In this we also need to promote access to digital knowledge, technical skills and expertise.

A company is only as strong as its workforce. Agoria, among others, calculated that by 2030 one in ten vacancies in Belgium may not be filled due to a shortage of employees with relevant skills, primarily in the field of digital technology. If this scenario is not to get any worse, no employee within a company should miss the digital train today. Everyone – from administrative workers, to experts and executives – needs to hone their digital skills, and the company has a big responsibility for that.

If we are really concerned about society and about our labour market, we only have one option in today’s world: to resolutely endorse education,reskilling and upskilling. Maximum lifelong employability for everyone: this is what I believe in. Both current employees and new talent – regardless of their background or level of education – must be given the opportunity to build up the knowledge and digital skills that are indispensable today as well as tomorrow throughout their careers.

And let me speak plainly: lifelong learning is a shared responsibility of governments, educational institutions, employers and employees. Governments need to create a framework in which education and development are encouraged and rewarded. Educational institutions must offer curricula that are tailored to the labour market as closely as possible. Moreover, successful commitment to lifelong learning requires cooperation between the academic and the business world by sharing knowledge and practical experience, among other things. Additionally, companies should make additional investments independently in ongoing initial skilling, reskilling and upskilling of their employees. In first instance, this should be to let employees develop and perform to the best of their abilities within their own company, but also by giving them skills, knowledge and practical experience that they can use for the rest of their career – whether within the company or outside. And finally, of course, the employees themselves must also be open to change and invest in their personal development.

Commitment to lifelong learning and sustainable employability is our social responsibility. It is high time that this learning culture is embedded into our labour market. Lifelong learning should be a right for the employee and a duty for the employer. I sincerely hope that there is sufficient ambition on the part of the various parties involved to fully endorse this.