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Covid-19

By Yasmine Lingemann

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, and now more than ever, we are learning the ever-increasing importance of an efficient, fair, and accessible digitalised education. A study done by Deloitte found that 75% of teachers believe that digital education content will totally replace printed textbooks within the next 10 years. Now is the time to brush up on your digital skills and prepare for a new wave of education.

On the 25th of November 2020, we were delighted to be joined by Ms Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva who is the Director for Innovation, International Cooperation and Sport at DG EAC. She gave a detailed presentation on the aims and challenges for digitalising education in the future. Yes, some of these challenges existed before the pandemic, but now that we are forced to do everything online, digital competences are about equipping every member of society with the appropriate skills to be able to take advantage of these new digital opportunities.

The good news is that 62% of respondents to the DG EAC survey reported that their digital skills had increased, and half of the respondents plan to continue to improve them after the crisis ends. Online and blended training was the most popular tool for improving these digital skills. More work still needs to be done, as digital skills become more important in the labour market. Enabling digital connectivity for schools was a top priority with high-quality digital content and user-friendly tools seen as vital for improving the digitalisation of education. It is clear that these tools should also respect privacy and ethical standards in order for people to trust in the digital evolution.

Furthermore, the enhancement of digital skills and knowledge is another priority. Fostering further knowledge on new technology, such as AI, is seen as crucial in enabling the technology further. Also stated was that public-private partnership is important in helping to advance digital skills. The Digital Education Action Plan has set ambitious visions for the next 7 years with the focus on effective use of digital technologies for teaching and learning.

Bridging the Gender Digital Divide by encouraging and facilitating women’s participation in STEM is paramount, as is narrowing the digital divide between rich and poor. We are all expected to keep up with the ever integral digital world, though many are not starting on a level playing field. In order for us all to reap the benefits and use digitalised education for the greater good, funding towards giving under-represented groups the tools, resources, and opportunities must be prioritised.

To finish, the COVID-19 crisis is a turning point for the use of technology in education (up by 95%), and in response, online training is expected to be the most popular tool for improving digital skills and competences. Digital literacy is listed as the top digital skill of the 21st century though the deepening socioeconomic inequalities and creation of new divides is to be addressed and prioritised as a main concern.

At BritCham, our recently launched Digital Working Group reflects the ever-growing importance of these issues, and will help ensure that the we continues to play an active and visible role in the digital policymaking debate which is currently taking place in Brussels, in the UK and globally, helping businesses and traders navigate this complex and rapidly evolving environment to seize the new opportunities that will arise. We look forward to continuing to take part in this important discussion, and encourage you to join us in future events on releated digital topics such as our upcoming event on: Big data: risks or opportunities for Europe? Learning the lessons from social media personal identity profiling: With Eva Kaili MEP.


BRITCHAM SUPPORT
Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period. Click here to register:
 https://www.britishchamber.be/upcoming-events

By Yasmine Lingmann

Business closures. Curfews. Social gatherings controlled. Face masks. Zoom fatigue. These are just a few of the consequences we are all having to accept in this never-ending Corona driven mess. But students are arguably one of the worst affected groups for two main reasons: they are the least likely to experience anything but mild symptoms, and these measures are therefore sacrificial; and the crucial opportunities and experiences needed for students to thrive and pave their way in the competitive world we live in are being snatched beneath our eyes- deteriorating the nations’ future workforce and economy.

I started working for the British Chamber of Commerce in July, right in the midst of it all, in a team of 6 student interns on our Erasmus year abroad as part of our university degree. Our interviews were held online during lockdown, with hopes that things would soon resume back to normal so that we could move to Brussels for the year. It’s now our third month of working remotely, having only met our colleagues virtually. This being said, we are lucky. As a team we have managed to get on despite only meeting online, and our colleagues have been nothing but accommodating and understanding. Many of our friends at university have had their year abroad cancelled altogether, or are unable to work remotely; having to settle for online learning courses that do not in any way make up for the loss of their Erasmus plans. Not only this- many of us are unable to receive the grant we have been promised, leaving students with little money to make the most of the year. Everything we had hoped for- exploring a new city, developing our foreign language skills, networking with professionals and learning from watching colleagues at work- has been taken away from us.

British students are paying the same price this year for worse educational development, economic prospects and social progression. With freshers struggling to settle in their new environments and unable to socialise: mental and physical health are at risk. This is the cohort that has already undergone significant hardship: they missed their last few months of school or college, were unable to sit their exams, and, many of whom were allocated A-level grades that in some cases bore no resemblance to what they had been predicted. University students have already been home from university since March and lost lecture hours due to teacher strikes throughout the year. Although the physical health of students is at low risk from Covid-19, their emotional, educational and economic wellbeing have been jeopardised more than any other age group’s.

The impacts this will have on the wider society are huge. In terms of domestic students, Resolution Foundation has revealed that more than a third of 18-24 year olds have been furloughed or lost their main job since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Employers are seeking 32% fewer entrants on apprentice or school leaver programmes than originally planned for this year, while graduate jobs have been cut by 12%. Internships and placements will also slump by 40%. There are already half a million young people unemployed and more than a million displaced from sectors most affected by Covid-19. The Institute for Employment Studies think that that in the medium term youth unemployment could exceed 2 million. A wide range of research suggests that spending more than six months unemployed at this age can have a significant long-term impact on their careers. Organisations such as Youth Employment UK are fighting to address the consequences Covid-19 will have on the wages and job prospects of ‘Corona Class of 2020’.

International students have been deeply impacted, too. This is significantly problematic given that in 2018/19 teaching of overseas students generated an estimated surplus of £1.7 billion or 43% in England and Northern Ireland combined, home student numbers have remained relatively static. China is by far the largest source of international students with just over 120,000 in 2018/19. Travel restrictions, as well as virtual lessons causing many students to defer or drop out, have caused a large fall in demand for British higher education from overseas. The short term and long term income generated by higher education to the national economy will continue to fall if changes are not made.

This being said- businesses are responding. According to a study done be LSE in July 2020, over 60% of firms adopted new digital technologies and management practices; and around a third invested in new digital capabilities. These process and product innovations are generally considered to have had a positive impact on performance, and businesses expect to maintain them post-crisis. This ‘Virtual Revolution’ offers many opportunities to technology prone students and according to most firms, will increase employee productivity rather than reduce the need for employees over time. Therefore, students can and should continue to be offered opportunities, and businesses will actually save more by doing so.

The Coronavirus Cohort will gain the strength and drive that businesses seek in their employees. This disruption will create new opportunities: a generation of students that have no choice but to adapt and innovate. Firms will need to give a helping hand to students through internships and work experience in order to get the economy back on track- but this effort is guaranteed to pay for itself for many years to come.


Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. 
We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period. Click here to register: https://www.britishchamber.be/upcoming-events

By Yasmine Lingemann

On Friday 28th August the British Chamber of Commerce EU & Belgium had the pleasure of hosting Sophie Maes and Sieglien Huyghe from Claeys & Engels to discuss the new changes to the Belgium temporary unemployment scheme from today, September 1st. 
The existing scheme will be split up into five new schemes for Belgian businesses to choose from. See below for a full breakdown of each scheme.

1. Corona temporary unemployment scheme valid until 31 December 2020
Conditions-
The firm must either belong to a sector that has been heavily affected by the Coronavirus OR have a minimum of 20% days of unemployment in one quarter compared with the previous quarter.

Application process-
Applicants must complete a C160A- HGO form to send to the National Employment Office (NEO) and receive a confirmation from NEO.

Formalities during use-
Notify & inform employees, the Work Council/ Trade Union.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Few formalities and applicable to all workers (blue and white collars).
-Expires on the 31st of December.

2. “Normal” economic temporary unemployment scheme for white-collar workers
Conditions-
The firm must prove a loss in turnover, production or orders by at least 10% OR a reduction in employment for blue-collar workers by 10% OR sufficient recognition by the Ministry of Work as a company in difficulty.

Application process-
A new CBA or Business Plan must be drawn. The Business Plan MUST be approved by the Commission for Business Plans which takes roughly two weeks.

Formalities during use-
A C160A form must be completed together with supporting documents. 
If you have a CBA, send this to the NEO.
If you have a Business Plan, send this to the FPS.
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment.
Communicate the economic reasons to support your application to either the Work Council or Trade Union Delegation.
Keep record in a validation book.
Deliver a C3.2A form to each employee an notify the NEO before the first day of unemployment every month.
A daily supplement of €5 is required.


Advantages & disadvantages-
+Possibility to regulate temporary unemployment for an immediate period of one year
+Maximum of 16 weeks for full-time workers and 26 weeks for part-time workers (of minimum 2 working days per week)
-Approved Business Plan or CBA is required
-Daily supplement paid by the employer

3. New “Transitional” economic temporary unemployment scheme for white-collar worker
Conditions-
The firm must prove a loss in turnover or production by at least 10%
Offer two training days per month to employees.

Application process-
A new CBA or Business Plan must be drawn. Business Plans must be submitted to the FPS but does not need approval.
Submit a C160A form to the NEO.

Formalities during use-
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment. This can be done electronically via
www.socialsecurity.be
Communicate the economic reasons to support your application to either the Work Council or Trade Union Delegation.
Keep record in a validation book.
Deliver a C3.2A form to each employee an notify the NEO before the first day of unemployment every month.
A daily supplement of €5 is required.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Maximum of 24 calendar weeks for full-time worker and 34 weeks for part-time workers (of minimum 2 working days per week).
+No approved Business Plan required.
-2 training day required per month.
-Only valid until the 31st of December.
-Daily supplement paid by the employer
.

4. Economic temporary unemployment scheme for blue-collar workers
Conditions-
The firm must be in economic difficulties due to an external problem e.g. The Coronavirus.

Application process-
Inform the NEO.

Formalities during use-
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment. This can be done electronically via: 
www.socialsecurity.be.
Communicate the economic reasons to support your application to either the Work Council or Trade Union Delegation.
Keep record in a validation book.
Deliver a C3.2A form to each employee an notify the NEO before the first day of unemployment every month.
A daily supplement of €2 is required.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Few formalities.
+Maximum of 4 weeks for full-time workers and 18 weeks for part-time workers (of minimum 3 working days per week).
+Small suspension also available for up to 12 months (of minimum 3 working days per week).
-Only valid until the 31st of December.
-Daily supplement paid by the employer.

5. “Normal” temporary unemployment scheme for force majeure
Conditions-
Unforeseen, unexpected event independent of the will of all parties.

Application process-
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment. This can be done electronically via: 
www.socialsecurity.be.

Formalities during use-
Deliver a C3.2.A form to the employee concerned.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Notice period is suspended.
-Case specific.


We hope that with this information, you will now find the temporary unemployment scheme that suits you and your company best.


Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. 
We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period. Click here to register: https://www.britishchamber.be/upcoming-events

By Yasmine Lingemann

Belgians are big savers. According to recent figures released by the National Bank of Belgium (BNB), Belgians have reached a record high in average household savings, with figures reaching 290 billion euros in aggregate regulated savings accounts. On average, the household savings ratio in Belgium is 12.6%, which by comparison is just over double that of the UK, where households save 6.2% of their disposable income. Belgians have traditionally saved a lot, yet even in an era of zero or negative interest rates on savings, the lack of spending is beginning to become problematic and even a hinderance to the national economy.

Globally, the Coronavirus pandemic has hurt economies everywhere. With firms in the UK and Europe also having to simultaneously adapt and create contingency plans to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition, businesses face the situation where they need to use alternative methods to attract clients and re-establish confidence in their company. In Belgium, that means trying to encourage people to spend more and save less at the same time as rising unemployment, weakening job security, and people generally tightening their belts and restricting spending to the bare necessities.

Despite this, firms must not lose hope: Now is the time to seek new opportunities. Businesses are responding, many are offering their goods and services in a different way. In Belgium, where consumers have traditionally been less open to online commerce, increased time at home in front of a screen enables households to be more susceptible to e-commerce and advertising. Businesses must use this time to improve communication and dialogue with their clients to reestablish trust and retain brand loyalty. Getting active online and keeping your customer base up to date on changes will help businesses in the long run and hasten the adoption of a more digitalised economy.

Belgium government support has not been as forthcoming as in the UK. However there are a variety of loans and tax deferral schemes that have been put in place to weaken the damage felt by Belgian firms.

Click here for Belgium’s government website to see how your business can benefit from the support available: https://www.belgium.be/en

Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period.

See our website here for more details on how we can help you: https://www.britishchamber.be/

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