The closure of the Ford Genk last week was a heavy blow. The decision of Ford Europe to shift the Genk production to Spain, will probably lead to 10,000 jobs being shed in Flanders. In Wallonia, there are massive job losses in the steel industry. It made many think: is there still a future for the industrial sector in Flanders? High wage and energy costs are cited as negative factors, although the decision of Ford Genk probably had nothing to do with the cost of labour (in Germany, this is said to be higher, and the Ford plants in Germany remain open).
The answer may come from sustainable energy. "If we really go for it 100%, we could create up to 30,000 new jobs in this sector", the Federation of the Technical Sector Agoria claims.
"Jump on the train while we can"
Agoria launched a Renewable Energy Club (REC) to look into the matter. The REC represents, supports and promotes 101 Belgian companies that focus on solar energy, wind energy, low-energy building, energy efficiency, renewable heat technologies, biomass, smart transformers etc.
"The drama in Genk shows that the car industry has reached its limits. In the renewable energy sector, this is completely different", Jan Declercq of the REC at Agoria told De Morgen. The sector has a lot of potential, he argues, before sending a warning: "If we wait too long, others will cut the ground from under our feet." If we wait too long to jump on the train, we will miss it, it is argued.
Jan Declercq gives the example of the 4,300 Ford workers who were made redundant in Genk. They could find a new job by maintaining wind mills for example. Vocational training and re-education could be kept to a minimum, as the Ford workers already have a lot of technical skills.
They could also easily be employed to manufacture new wind turbines. Mr Declercq also underlines that renewable energy is the future, which gives the new jobs a long-term prospect, although the business can be volatile as we have seen in recent years.