One in five employees in the food sector today is over the age of 55, compared to one in ten employees in 2010, according to figures requested from the Flemish Minister of Employment.
“Part of the explanation lies in the fact that people are working longer, and therefore the oldest category is growing,” said Flemish MP Steven Coenegrachts (Open Vld), who requested the figures.
Coenegrachts is concerned that this, coupled with a declining influx of young people, will lead to problems in the future.
“We need to look quickly at how we can attract more young people into the food industry,” he said. “That sector really needs them.”
The food sector in the Flemish region is a major employer, with 62,264 jobs accounting for 49,723 full-time equivalents, according to the Flemish infocentre for agriculture and horticulture (VILT).
As of 2020, the sector employed 42,548 men, of whom 35,254 were full-time, and 19,716 women, of whom 14,469 were full-time.
Over-55’s made up about 9.7 percent of that workforce in 2010 and saw their share grow to 18.8 by 2020.
While Coenegrachts says it “doesn’t have to be bad news,” VILT points out that it reflects the fact that people have to work longer until they can retire.
Some of those over-55s will retire in the coming years. Figures indicate that 1,678 of these older workers retired in 2020, and around 1,950 will retire by 2024.
But numbers also show that those leaving aren’t being replaced by younger employees at a fast enough rate. VILT called this trend “problematic.”
“The proportion of entrants under 25 compared to the total number of entrants is decreasing every year,” they said.
Coenegrachts agreed that this “evolution is not a good thing,” but says that attracting young people to the sector “is a challenge, given the current tightness in our labour market.”
Fevia, the federation of the Belgian food industry, has stated multiple times that the shortage threatens to slow down the growth of the food industry in Flanders.
Flemish Minister of Employment Hilde Crevits (CD&V) says the Region will focus on training efforts to tackle the most bottlenecked occupations.
They’ve also reached an agreement with the food industry to provide support in the form of providing full-time advisors and taking actions like strengthening the skills of temporary workers, promoting and financing career guidance and encouraging food companies to implement a sustainable HR and organisation policy.