Pilot Project Addressing Labour Shortages Through Innovative Labour Migration Models (PALIM)

Program Origin

The original impetus for this program came from the Belgian Flemish region, which since 2017 had been facing a shortage of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) workers. The Flemish leadership was interested in finding qualified foreign workers to fill these gaps and jumpstart business growth and productivity.

This interest dovetailed with the European Commission’s 2018 communication on fostering legal migration pathways, which highlighted the need to “make legal pathways a compelling part of our partnership approach with third countries.” The Commission also set up the Mobility Partnerships Facility (MPF) to fund member state pilot programs on legal migration. The Belgian minister of Development Cooperation tasked the Belgian development agency Enabel with assembling a proposal for a pilot project.

Enabel reached out to Morocco, a long-term development cooperation partner with a booming ICT sector, high unemployment for young graduates despite quality higher education, a new national strategy for inclusive digitalization, and a need for more targeted investment in existing training centers. A 2013 migration and mobility partnership to “effectively manage movement of people between the EU and Morocco” had laid the groundwork for future cooperation on migration. The PALIM project was developed to address labor needs in both countries and support economic development in Morocco by training Moroccan talents to work in the ICT sector in both ‘home’ and ‘away’ tracks. The program was launched in March 2019, initially for 18 months.

Funders and Participating Organizations

The European Union (EU) funded the €1.5 million program through their Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund and Mobility Partnerships Facility, which is managed by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD). Enabel managed and oversaw the constellation of partnerships with the Flemish and Moroccan government employment services, employers’ federations, interested private businesses, universities, and the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil).

Enabel worked closely with the Flemish and Moroccan public employment services (VDAB and ANAPEC) to identify job market needs and potentially interested businesses. Both services were in charge of pre-selecting candidates in cooperation with Moroccan employers’ federations. This selection focused on learning potential and adaptability, taking a longer-term vision than prioritizing immediate employability full-stop. Public and private partners from Belgium and Morocco developed the training curriculum to ensure concordance with their needs.

Progress To Date

Training began in late 2019 and was completed by mid 2020. Of 9,677 program applicants, 120 were selected. The seven-month intensive training course included ICT-specific modules, soft skills, English classes, and information on work and life in Belgium. Participants were connected with companies in both Morocco and Belgium; in the end, more than half were employed in Morocco through work contracts, self-employment or pre-recruitment internships. The rest continued with more specialized training courses (often supported by the project; e.g. two participants received a grant to study IT in the US) or are currently amidst the employment process in both Belgium and Morocco. The job-matching aspect of the project – especially for the Belgian companies recruiting abroad – was unfortunately complicated due to Covid-19 border closures. PALIM concluded on April 30 2021, but support to the participants will continue through the new project THAMM-Enabel, described below.

The project built upon a number of existing policy frameworks within Belgium, namely 1) a regionalized economic immigration policy, meaning that Flanders has an autonomous mandate in this area; 2) prioritization and encouragement of skilled immigration; and 3) existing development cooperation with Morocco including the mobility partnership mentioned above.

The Enabel labor mobility specialist Raffaella Greco Tonegutti noted that the numerous mobility partnerships Belgium has signed “don’t necessarily translate into more movement.” She found PALIM distinct from these approaches – and more successful in fostering migration – given its development-oriented nature, operational focus, and ground-up approach. Though Belgium had no previous experience with this sort of skills partnership model, she noted that this project was “the first time I saw the entire constellation of actors agreeing on a model. This means we are responding quite well to a need, and the model is suitable.”

Role of the Center for Global Development (CGD)

PALIM was designed as a “by the book” Global Skills Partnership, adapted to the “complex reality” of Belgium, Morocco, and the system of partnerships that developed.[vi] When Enabel was tasked to develop a pilot program on legal migration pathways, such a project “could have been anything” given the broad mandate. Tonegutti had heard of the Global Skills Partnership model in a previous position and thought it could be a good match for Enabel’s focus on piloting and testing development innovations. She contacted CGD to propose that Enabel become the first EU actor to fully implement the GSP model in practice. “That’s when the magic happened,” she noted. Enabel hopes to stay in touch with CGD to track the more strategic outcomes of the program and utilize CGD’s evaluation expertise to “help systems reflect on the way they work.”

Major Takeaways and Lessons Learned

  1. Coordinating operational and strategic outcomes can be difficult

Given the range of diverse partnerships, donor requirements, and political engagement in this project, it was at times difficult to synchronize the “nitty gritty” operational project framework with the higher-level, more strategic outcomes of the pilot.

2. Managing the partnership network is extremely time – and labor-intensive

PALIM held weekly meetings with all the partners; an Enabel specialist noted that such “constant mediation” was both crucial and very labor-intensive. This is an area that benefitted from a development agency’s involvement, as Enabel has a “mandate to create partnerships.”

It also took time to ensure everyone understood the model, particularly how it translated to each partner’s operational context. “It was a challenge to make all the partners understand the model and translate it to their model and what they’ll get out of it.”

The hardest part of the project was building up such a complex set of new partnerships so quickly; future programs would benefit from laying the groundwork for such alliances in advance.

3. The flexibility of the GSP model is its biggest strength but can be difficult to translate into practice

Enabel’s Raffaella Greco Tonegutti noted that the Global Skills Partnerships are “a beautiful model,” but in practice the participants’ incentives may not align with those outlined. This is particularly true in terms of timeline, with program partners focused more on their present needs than the longer-term benefits frequently discussed.

At the same time, the partners have now internalized the model and feel ownership over it, which has been important to its success.

4. Even with labor shortages, placing workers can be difficult

Private sector mobilization in Belgium was “supposed to be very easy” because of labor shortages, but in fact it was hard to match workers given language issues, fast evolution of the ICT sector, and the global pandemic context.

What’s Next

The EU has already funded a follow-on program called “Towards a Holistic Approach to Labour Migration Governance and Labour Mobility in North Africa” (THAMM) that includes THAMM-Enabel, a component building on PALIM (€5 out of the total €30M funds). The program comprises several components implemented by GIZ, Enabel, IOM and ILO and widens the network of partners to include Germany, Egypt, and Tunisia and provides training in the ICT, hospitality and tourism sectors. Despite Covid-19 related delays, THAMM has already trained 162 people, with 48 benefitting from job placements and 129 benefitting from legal migration pathways.

Enabel is also keen to move similar projects forward, as they believe in the model and can see it aligning well with their other human mobility programming including diaspora mobilization and providing employment opportunities for third country citizens in EU member states. They have also built some elements of the GSP model into an ongoing project in West Africa. The program focuses on the circular migration of micro-entrepreneurs, and Enabel has added a skilling and job matching component to maximize the benefits for participants.

This case study was written by an independent, external, expert. Quotes are drawn from interviews in June 2021 with the expert.