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VDAB & City of Antwerp

Obstacles and dreams of 21 Antwerp youths looking for work portrayed

Call To Action

"I don't want to work just to survive, but also to enjoy life"


The customer

Unemployment among younger adults is a challenge for many cities. VDAB and the City of Antwerp have therefore joined forces to look beyond statistics and give a face to unemployed young people in Antwerp. Their goal is to ensure that relevant policy advisors and all those involved in this domain, can appreciate the identities of these young people and better understand their optimal individual pathways to gainful employment.

The challenge

"How can we look beyond the numbers and gain a deeper understanding of the emotions, dreams and challenges of young adults in order to better align policy with their actual needs?"

With this question in mind, VDAB and the City of Antwerp contacted Knight Moves. Our role was to explore the obstacles and dreams of 21 young Antwerp-based individuals looking for work. Then we brought our findings to life through the exhibition 'Baanbrekend dromen' with the hope that this might help policymakers to have a better understanding of who these young people are, when making decisions specifically aimed at creating opportunities for young people in Antwerp.

This is not your typical Knight Moves project as we didn’t start from a specific problem definition for which the client was looking for a solution. Nevertheless, we enthusiastically took on the challenge of making an impact for a target group so close to our hearts.

The quest

Together with the members of the youth and work Department of VDAB and the City of Antwerp, we organized a number of inspiration sessions. Together, we identified the target group we wanted to reach and worked out a strategy to do so. We also proposed a targeted recruitment approach, crucial to the success of the project. It became an intensive phase in which we made every effort to reach the right people.

We encouraged young people to participate through various accessible channels, both physical and digital. We worked with various partners, including schools (CVO) and youth organizations (JES), which already had an established relationship with our target group. We used digital channels such as Whatsapp to establish direct contact with willing participants. By approaching the adolescents personally and informally and reassuring them throughout the interview process, we created a safe environment. We also consistently emphasized how their participation could effectively have an impact. This strategy not only proved to be effective in reaching a diverse audience but also demonstrated our commitment to an inclusive recruitment approach.

We spoke to people in various community centers in the heart of Antwerp, where a relaxed atmosphere provided the ideal setting for a pleasant and informal conversation. This relaxed atmosphere was again essential to ensuring a safe environment. We gave participants ownership of the conversation so they could decide for themselves what they wanted to share with us, and what they didn’t. By letting them decide the order of the questions themselves, the conversation flowed organically which allowed us to discover what factors influence their job search, how they prepare themselves and what goes well or not so well when exploring the labour market.

We used picture cards to approach the conversation on a more emotional level to better understand what feelings prevailed during job searches.

The resulting conversations were open and warm, allowing participants to share their more vulnerable sides. After they had loosened up completely we ended with a photo session, which they helped shape and direct. As a background for the portraits, we chose the Antwerp street scene acting as an extension of their living environment.

Together with the client, we then thought about how we could bring these unique stories to life in an exhibition, always with our end goal clearly in mind: the stories should make policymakers think about measures that promote opportunities and support for young people in Antwerp.

"Developing soft skills is one thing, but recognising and embracing them is perhaps even more important. My friends act as a mirror here. For others, VDAB can be this mirror."

The result

It all came together in a compelling exhibition where policymakers such as the Council Member for Youth, the Provincial Director of VDAB Antwerp Region, numerous VDAB partners, the participants themselves and their families and friends could admire all 21 stories and portraits. It evolved into a unique meeting between young job seekers and policymakers who entered into conversation with great interest and appreciation for each other.

The multimedia exhibition called ‘Baanbrekend dromen' consisting of text, pictures and sound literally brought these stories to life. Visitors could fully empathize, as if they themselves were part of the intimate conversations. The 21 inspiring stories revealed the challenges, dreams, approaches and motivations of young Antwerp-based job-seekers. Out of every story emerged a distinct character and a powerful connection. Each visitor was inspired by the human side of the 21 participants, with determination and resilience playing key roles. For many, a job proved to be much more than just a source of income; it is a crucial part of their identity and a reflection of their skills and talents.

Decision-makers received a compilation of the stories and key points of interest so that they could read and study them at their leisure after the event.

What struck me is that you were very flexible and invested a lot of time in reaching the young people. I really liked how those young people were at ease with you. I also greatly admired your perfectionism in setting up the expo
Sofie Salamanca - Project manager Employment; City of Antwerp