ETF Live LearningConnects ENABEL

Skills dimensions of migration: Actions from EU neighbourhood

Marking International Migrants’ Day (December 18) the European Training Foundation Friday hosted a live-streamed video discussion on examples of how the EU is helping address the needs of its neighbouring countries to avoid brain drain, while benefitting from the opportunities offered by mutually well-managed migration.

Featuring the ETF’s Director, Cesare Onestini, and Grégoire Douxchamps of ENABEL, the Belgian Development Agency, the hour-long discussion – available here - was chaired by ETF Communications Officer, Maria Lvova Zolotarevskaya.

The discussion kicked off with a look at ENABEL’s innovative pilot Global Skills Partnership – the first labour mobility project between Belgium and Morocco since the 1970s.

Designed “on the assumption that labour mobility benefits all parties when the talents are able to find a qualified job in country of origin and destination,” validation of skills was a key part of the approach in a program running since March 2019, Mr. Douxchamps said.


“We wanted to test this approach starting from existing skills and visa schemes and established partnerships with Moroccan and Belgian public and private employment services, companies and private sector employment and business associations,” he added.

After identifying a key skills gap common to both countries – trained JAVA software developers - the project, in cooperation with the Moroccan Employment Agency - and aimed at reskilling people who were unemployed - received 10,000 applications for 120 places on an intensive 7-month training course in Morocco that had technical, soft skills and language tuition components.

Participants, drawn from all parts of Morocco, were provided with information on working life in Belgium and put in touch with companies in both countries. The reskilling resulted in impressive figures: more than half of the participants found jobs in Morocco, while the rest chose to look for work or further study opportunities overseas. One was awarded a scholarship to study in the USA.

Commenting on the project and its wider relevance, Mr. Onestini noted that it bore the hallmarks of the objective the ETF looks for in its work with EU neighbourhood countries.

 “Partnership is important, but ownership too. Ultimately reforms of this nature [designing policies that address the needs of migrants that reflect mutual national needs]… will only be sustainable if countries and individuals see that they have a positive impact both individually and for the economies of the countries [from which migrants come.]”

Mitigating brain drain and promoting brain gain is an essential part of future management of migration that is already part of the EU’s Talent Partnership, launched last June by the European Commission.

The Talent Partnerships – part of a new Pact on Migration and Asylum – will “enhance legal pathways to the EU, while engaging partner countries strategically on migration management.”

“The Talent Partnerships aim to provide a comprehensive policy framework, as well as funding support to boost mutually beneficial international mobility based on better matching of labour market needs and skills between the EU and partner countries,” the EC says. “They will be open to students, graduates and skilled workers.”

Mr. Onestini noted, that the “ETF is there to support the development of Talent Partnerships” as part of its brief to support the reform of vocational education and training, skills, and labour market measures in its partner countries.

 “Brain drain is an issue for Morocco and many countries,” Mr. Douxchamps said. “Each year around 600 engineers leave Morocco; more and more Belgian partners - both private and public - know that the demand is so high that a brain drain is not an option in the longer term. That is part of the reason for our approach in our Morocco project.”

 He added: “The design of the project is a win-win situation – brain drain is not part of this - we are looking at brain gain.”

Mr. Onestini observed: “Brain drain is a big issue in many of our partner countries, even within the EU there are regions where especially young people do not find work and leave. In some of our partner countries this issue is very alive in terms of losing the opportunity of having some of these recently trained skilled workers stay and contribute to the country; we need to be more innovative in ways of bridging this gap so there is not net loss for, and net gain for another.”

This could be done, for example, by promoting the development of platform work, where people in effect become virtual migrants by working remotely via the Internet from their home country for clients in other countries. Employee rights needed to be better considered, Mr. Onestini said, adding that “concerns over rights of workers” was a key issue in, for example, Ukraine.

 “In many countries we see both high number of migrants leaving and see that in domestic job market there are gaps and employers looking for skilled workers. We need to look better at how to tailor their skills development and ensure migration is more balanced.”

Migration has traditionally been looked at in terms of flows, cash remittances migrants sent to countries of origin, but not enough attention has been paid to skills, Mr. Onestini added. “The skills profile of migrants is very diverse and not always what we expect, [they are] not always the lowest skilled, but also sometimes those with higher skills that are marketable, and have opportunities in countries with higher salaries or more dynamic job markets.”

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