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"It's the knowledge and talent, stupid"

July 06, 2020

"It's the knowledge and talent, stupid"

Open letter from AMS dean Steven De Haes with an appeal to policy makers to invest more in talent and knowledge, as appeared in Belgian business newspaper De Tijd on 4 July 2020.

Read the original article (in Dutch) here.

Over the past few months, our policymakers have had their hands full fighting an invisible enemy. At the same time, all of us, whether entrepreneur or student, have been challenged to question every aspect of our lives. Today, we are slowly but surely taking our first steps into the new reality in which we are all together facing one of the greatest transformation challenges in our history. Normality as we knew it, is gone.

For many companies, it will not be a matter of simply returning to business as usual. The 90% economy will only be the first hurdle to take. After all, in just three months, the entire economic system has been completely transformed: digitization has accelerated, production processes have been remodeled, consumer behavior has changed drastically, and the international context has become unpredictable. This is disastrous for the economy and especially for an open economy such as ours.

Still, we do not have to sit around and wait for the future to happen. We have two sustainable commodities at our disposal to reinvent ourselves: knowledge and talent. Our innovative and problem-solving ability allows us to compete in the big league on an international level–as the articles about Belgian innovative companies in this newspaper prove every day again. We can definitely make a difference when it comes to knowledge and talent. For these commodities, we need to make an all-out effort to collaborate and build ecosystems in, and from, Flanders. Ecosystems between companies, knowledge institutions and government.

"The competition for talent, knowledge and innovation does not play on the local, but on the global level. We do not have a monopoly on brainpower."

Flanders and Belgium must therefore be prepared to develop a bold, ambitious plan that will allow us to both produce and attract knowledge and talent.

Our companies and knowledge institutions are eager to attract, train and deploy local and international talent. Since the one, unique asset of Flanders is knowledge and talent, a smart government must support this as well by an enabling policy. By practical measures such as straightforward procedures, good accommodation, and single points of contact, we can highlight in every aspect of our policy that we welcome and nurture talent. But above all, by drawing up a well-thought-out policy that will allow our strong educational landscape of schools, colleges, universities, and business schools to continue to innovate.

A policy that is also not afraid to admit that there is an ever more critical need for lifelong learning and continuing education with a positive and sustainable impact on economy and/or society. There has also recently been a trend toward knowledge transfer in short and bite-sized chunks, but we must dare to invest in in-depth and science-based tracks that effectively transform the behavior and impact of individuals, teams and organizations in a sustainable way. After all, there are no simple readymade solutions for the complex, global and volatile world that we work and live in. The government can focus its subsidy policy on this by providing substantial support to knowledge institutions that can demonstrate the effective and purposeful impact of learning and research tracks on society.

That is why, as a Flemish coalition between companies and knowledge institutions, we call on Flemish policymakers to put even more effort into attracting, developing, deploying, and continuously training talent. Only by arming Flanders and Belgium with more knowledge and talent, by stimulating international collaboration and turning lifelong learning into the norm, will we be able to future-proof the economy. After all, the future of this generation, of the next generations and of our region will depend on the courage of our region, companies, and policymakers all together, to invest in human capital. This is not an easy thing to do, but the courage this takes will show who is a true statesman and who is a mere passerby.

Now is the time to invest in those commodities of the future: people and brains. Let us sit around the table to boost our education, and thus our economy as well, with a future-oriented strategy. Let us all join a coalition in which our knowledge will be the onset of a sustainable, attractive, and resilient Flanders and Belgium.

Steven De Haes
Dean Antwerp Management School

This open letter was co-signed by:

  • Ilse Daelman, Managing Director AMS
  • Bart Cambré, Vice Dean AMS
  • Alain Beyens, Manager A2consulting /Chairman of the Board of Directors AMS
  • Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO Port of Antwerp
  • Herman Van Goethem, Rector University of Antwerp /Chairman of the General Council AMS
  • Ans De Vos, SD Worx Chair Next Generation Work - AMS
  • Jo De Backer, CEO Niko Group / Chairman VOKA Antwerp – Waasland
  • Johan Van Genechten, CEO 4C / Associate Professor KUL
  • Mimi Lamote, CEO Mayerline / Chairman Alumni Board AMS
  • Veerle Limbos, Head of Global Channel Business Alignment, Fujitsu Global
  • Ron Meyer, Managing Director, Center for Strategy & Leadership / Professor of Strategic Leadership AMS
  • Françoise Chombar, CEO Melexis
  • Wayne Visser, Chair BASF-Port of Antwerp-Randstad Sustainable Transformation - AMS
  • Ann Jorissen, Full Professor / Department Accountancy & Finance, University of Antwerp / Professor AMS
  • Sven Cauwelier, General Manager City of Antwerp and PCSW Antwerp
  • Veerle Hendrickx, CEO Karel de Grote Hogeschool
  • Wouter De Ploey, CEO ZNA (Ziekenhuisnetwerk Antwerpen)
  • Christien Van Vaerenberg, Chief HR Officer, Port of Antwerp
  • Eddy Annys, COO Randstad
  • Jan Remeysen, CEO BASF Antwerp
  • Jan Suykens, CEO Ackermans & Van Haaren
  • Christian Salez, Furthermore Ltd – London
  • Steven Poelmans, Melexis Chair of Neuroscience- and Technology-enabled High Performance Organizations - AMS
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