Press release

Belgian companies have high growth expectations and are hiring more full-time staff

Belgium is a frontrunner in the use of artificial intelligence

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Brussels, 20 September 2018 – Belgian managers are aiming for high growth and are counting on hiring more staff in order to achieve this. To meet these growth expectations, managers are making use of digitization.

Not only are they using digital opportunities to transform their organization, but they’re also relying on artificial intelligence. This is reflected in the recent EY Growth Barometer, an annual survey that shows how managers of medium-sized companies are adapting to and making use of a constantly changing environment.

Belgian medium-sized companies are some of the most ambitious in the world when it comes to their growth expectations. While the International Monetary Fund predicts growth of only 1.9%, of the surveyed respondents, 27% expected growth of over 10%. The companies want to achieve this growth organically, by entering a new domestic market. In addition, our managers are more inclined than others to devise new business models by investing in technology. This puts them at an advantage when it comes to remaining competitive.

Managers make full use of opportunities provided by digitization

Digital technologies have made their way into business. The Growth Barometer shows that the overwhelming majority (73%) of respondents want to work with artificial intelligence within two years. Almost all respondents (99%) say that they will do so within five years. Not only is this a huge turnaround compared to last year, but it also shows that Belgium is a frontrunner in the use of cognitive technologies to stimulate growth and ensure efficiency gains.

The interest in these new technologies also points to a change in behavior and mentality among Belgian entrepreneurs. In 2017, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) still described the Belgian economy as follows: “Business dynamism is weak, with low rates of enterprise start-ups and exits. Start-ups face several barriers and entrepreneurship is underdeveloped.” Nowadays managers do understand that speed and innovation are essential in order to achieve success.

This change has not escaped the attention of Stefan Olivier, Growth Markets Leader at EY Belgium, and he also recognizes that Belgium is catching up when it comes to entrepreneurship. “Historically we have had a low score for entrepreneurship, because many people work in the public sector or in big companies rather than in private companies. Over the past few years, a lot more start-ups have been founded by young people. This put the traditional companies under pressure to also come up with fresh ideas. It seems that established companies are now trying to develop more entrepreneurship within their own ranks.”

The Belgian government is also aware of this development, and over the past years it has provided the necessary support. Spending on research and development has risen from 1.8% to 2.5% of GDP over the past ten years, which corresponds to almost five billion euros. Expenditure on R&D is also well above the European average of 2%.

Stronger growth leads to greater demand for staff

In order to fulfill the high growth expectations, companies are also actively looking for more full-time and part-time staff. 61% of respondents expect to hire new employees this year. One third indicated that they’re looking for full-time staff, 19% are looking for sub-contractors and 13% for part-time employees. This change in staffing policy anticipates the changing expectations of the younger generation and the move towards a ‘gig economy’, where the focus is no longer only on full-time work, but where temporary jobs are becoming more prominent.

Despite the growing demand for more staff, in practice it seems to be difficult to fill all the vacancies. With only 11.3 million inhabitants, the labor supply in Belgium is rather limited. In addition, the lack of large employer brands means that the appeal of working abroad is stronger. The World Economic Forum puts Belgium in 30th place with regard to the capacity to attract talent. When it comes to retaining workers, Belgium is in 33rd place. As a comparison, the Netherlands can be found in 11th and 7th place respectively. The UK does even better, with 3rd and 6th place.

Not only are Belgian companies looking for a bigger workforce, 50% of employers also need more diversity within their teams. This is an increase of almost 30% compared to last year. Managers believe that having employees with the right skills is the best way to speed up their growth.

Stefan Olivier further emphasizes: “Finding staff with the right skills remains a big challenge for Belgian companies. This is why it’s important to build a good relationship with universities and colleges, and to adapt the courses offered to the changing demand on the labor market.”

 

The full report can be found here: www.ey.com/growthbarometer/belgium.