Column - Zuid-Limburg: the centre of the Euregio Meuse-Rhine labour market16 January 2023
How do we see Zuid-Limburg? As "the tail end" or "the centre'' of the labour market in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine? Until recently, when it comes to recruiting talent, it was mainly the former. Before Covid-19 made us more aware of our digital reach, and we still visited job fairs en masse, the step from Maastricht to Eindhoven seemed quite logical. No talent in Zuid-Limburg? Then we'll travel through the narrow 5km-wide "Dutch" gate and look north.
What about Hasselt or Aachen? Those are across the border... sounds too difficult. Different, maybe yes. Too difficult? No. Differences in national legislation/tax systems have produced some nasty stories in the past, and often rightly so. Fortunately, nowadays, with the current provision of information such as that from the Cross-border Information Points (Grensinfopunt / Grenzinfopunkt), you can start your career across the border well equipped, and relaxed.
Still, working cross-border is not in our genes. Only yesterday during a networking event in Hasselt, each conversation regularly ends up with the conclusion: "Yeah crazy, never thought about studying or working across the border". Not been allocated a placement at a university in Maastricht? Then we think about Rotterdam first and only then about Leuven…
Now, of course, we don't all need to cross the border en masse to study or work. But what if it became a bit more "normal" that, in addition to refuelling, dining or exercising across the border, we just went there to work? What if we didn't necessarily pass through that 5km gate that connects us to the "rest" of the Netherlands but looked left and right and started exploring that other 200km we share with Belgium and Germany? We are talking about an area with 4 million inhabitants and 2.2 million jobs, within one hour's travel time.
That tight labour market will continue for some time. Now, we should not be under the illusion that, as an employer in a border region, we will solve this shortage by only recruiting across the border – because the market looks exactly the same in Belgium and Germany. But surely there will be some extra talent among those 4.4 million inhabitants with whom we can now fill those crucial positions, right?
I sometimes compare Zuid-Limburg to a pinball machine within which we see talent make its journey. Pull back, release the plunger, hit the ball a few times and it makes its somewhat predestined journey “up north”. Take it on the chin and move on?
What if we create some pathways to the left and right of that pinball machine?
We’d probably score more points, more often. The fact remains that the availability of sufficient qualified workers is not only an important factor for choice of location to establish a business, it can also be a prerequisite for companies to stay in a particular region.
As a Grensarbeid project leader, I see an increasing interest from both employers and jobseekers to set their sights on a neighbouring country. More than 1,000 successful matches have already been made from the Grensarbeid locations in Kerkrade and Maastricht in recent years! The advisers at the aforementioned Cross-Border Information Points are receiving more and more requests for bespoke advice.
Perhaps it’s now a development born of necessity but it’s certainly a big step, new momentum, for our Euroregional labour market in which we are not talking about displacement or competition but broadening and blending!
 a collaboration of public partners from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany focused on cross-border job placement
Project leader Grensarbeid