Situated in the heart of Europe, Belgium is a federal state that is subdivided into communities and regions.
In Belgium, powers relating to employment are shared between the federal government on the one hand, and the regions and the German-speaking Community on the other.
It is the Federal Government’s responsibility to create a framework that promotes the optimal development of employment and solidarity, and to ensure that all citizens have equal rights and opportunities. The communities and regions guarantee, above all, optimal conditions for access to, and participation in, the labour market, and develop integration and reintegration initiatives geared to their specific situation, ensuring that everyone enjoys equal opportunities.
As of 1 January 2021, the population legally registered in Belgium is 11 507 163, 57.8% of whom reside in Flanders, 31.7% in Wallonia, 10.5% in the Brussels Capital Region, and fewer than 1% in the municipalities of the German-speaking Community. The population has experienced an annual growth of 14 522 people, or 0.13%. This growth is primarily attributable to net international migration. The population traditionally consists of slightly more women (50.7%) than men (49.3%).
2019 was quite a favourable year for the labour market: employment among the 20-64 age group increased by 0.8 percentage points (compared to 2018) to 70.5%, while the unemployment rate among the 20-64 age group fell from 5.8% in 2018 to 5.2% in 2019, the lowest annual average since 1983.
This positive trend was halted in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. In Belgium, as elsewhere, there was a public lockdown, businesses were closed and work in general was reorganised until eventually activity gradually resumed. COVID-19 began as a public health crisis but rapidly expanded into an economic and social crisis. A gradual return to pre-crisis conditions is not expected until after 2021. As of June 2020, although the crisis continues to make itself felt in the labour market, its impact has eased a little.
As a result of the crisis, the Belgian employment rate was slightly lower at the end of 2020 than at the end of 2019: it fell from 70.5% to 69.9%, with a fall in both the Flemish Region (from 75.7% to 74.5%) and the Brussels Capital Region (from 62.3% to 61.4%). In Wallonia, the rate actually rose slightly, from 64% to 64.7%.
The ILO unemployment rate (based on the number of jobseekers and those out of work and available to start quickly) in Belgium rose from 5% to 5.7% between the end of 2019 and the end of 2020. In Flanders, this rate remains low, despite the increase from 2.6% to 3.2%, whereas unemployment is a little higher in Brussels and Wallonia, with an increase from 11.7% to 12.8% in Brussels and from 7.4% to 8% in Wallonia.
The package of government measures, including temporary lay-offs and financial support for individuals and the self-employed, has limited job losses. Nevertheless, Belgium is still in an unprecedented economic crisis that is likely to have serious consequences for employment and the unemployment rate. Although, according to the National Bank of Belgium (NBB), the economic recovery has started earlier than expected, with a growth of 0.6% in the first quarter of 2021, the Federal Planning Bureau still expects total domestic employment to decrease by around 30 000 people in 2021. The number of unemployed jobseekers is expected to grow by around 50 000, while the unemployment rate (according to the Federal Planning Bureau’s broader definition) is expected to rise from an average of 9.1% in 2020 to an average of 9.9% in 2021.
In Belgium, the majority of employment is in the service sector. There are few major industrial companies in Belgium, although one such company is steel giant ArcelorMittal, which is based mainly in Wallonia. In Flanders there is a Volvo Cars factory in Ghent, and an Audi factory in the Brussels municipality of Forest. The other major vehicle manufacturers Renault, Opel and Ford pulled out some time ago. The Top 10 is made up entirely of service businesses in the transport and communications, finance, and distribution/retail sectors. The list comprises bpost; the banks BNP Paribas Fortis, ING Belgium and KBC Bank; HR Rail, the Colruyt Group; Proximus; the Delhaize Group; Carrefour Belgium; and Randstad.
The principal sector in Belgium, which also has the highest number of workers, is the tertiary sector (service sector), which accounts for 68.8% of GDP (gross domestic product). Commerce, transport and hospitality make up the bulk of this sector. Next come public administration, education and business services, making up 19%. Therefore, the most common occupations in Belgium are office workers in both the public and private sectors (general duties); shop assistants; home help; maintenance staff in offices, hotels and other businesses; and teachers.
Many people in Belgium commute to work in a different region from the one in which they live, or even abroad. These are known as cross-border workers. Most commuting takes place from Flanders and Wallonia to the Brussels Capital Region, where there are more jobs than people in the labour force.
Belgium portal – Official information and services
Belgium portal – Official information and services
Federal Planning Bureau
Labour market information for the Brussels Capital Region
Statistics from the Public Employment Service of Flanders (VDAB)
Le Forem [public employment service for Wallonia]
Labour market information for the German-speaking Community
Although total employment fell relatively modestly between 2019 and 2020 (-0.6%) due to the coronavirus crisis, the trends in employment opportunities differ depending on the characteristics of the jobs in question. For example, the number of people working in part-time jobs fell by -30 750 (-2.5%). The number of full-time jobs is stabilising:
the number of self-employed workers actually increased by just under 20 000 (+2.9%). The number of employees, on the other hand, fell by 48 800 (-1.2%). Among those employees, people in temporary jobs were particularly hard hit, with their number falling by 35 200 (-7.8%). The number of permanent jobs fell to a much lesser extent (-13 600 people or -0.4%).
The five sectors that saw the biggest falls in the number of people in work in percentage terms are as follows: ‘Hospitality’ (-13.7%), ‘Production and distribution of electricity, gas, steam and cooled air’ (-8.2%), ‘Transport and storage’ (-6.8%), ‘Construction’ ( -5.8%) and ‘Wholesale and retail trade, including repair of cars and motorcycles’ (-5.6%). The latter sector has seen the largest fall in employee numbers in absolute terms (-35 500). There are also some sectors where employment increased, such as ‘Financial activities and insurance’ (+10.8%), ‘Information and communication’ (+6.4%), ‘Property and trade in real estate’ ( +5.8%), ‘Education’ (+5.2%) and ‘Public administration and defence; compulsory social security’ (+4.9%).
When comparing the number of people in work by profession between 2019 and 2020, the strong rise in the ‘Intellectual, scientific and artistic professions’ sector is striking, in both relative (+4.3%) and absolute (+52 600) terms. In relative terms, the number of people in work fell most sharply in the ‘Elementary occupations’ sector (-7.7%) (such as cleaners in offices, domestic workers employed by private individuals, and loaders and unloaders), followed by the ‘Service staff and sales staff’ sector (-5.9%). In 2020, there were 38 500 fewer workers in the latter category than in 2019.
The vacancy rate – the number of vacancies in relation to the total number of jobs – also fell above all in the hospitality sector, while it rose, above all, in the ‘Information and communication’ sector. Despite the crisis, the vacancy rate for temporary positions still far exceeds that for permanent posts.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, Belgian companies were offering 115 553 vacancies, compared with 131 378 in the third quarter of the same year. This represents a fall of 12% – and sometimes as much as 17.1% – when compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.
The vacancy rate – the number of vacancies in relation to the total number of jobs in a business – also fell to 2.9% (Q4/2020), both on a quarterly basis (3.3% in Q3/2020) and on an annual basis (3.4% in Q4/2019).
The number of vacancies fell in all three regions compared to the third quarter of 2020, decreasing by 9 765 vacancies in Flanders, 3 884 in Wallonia and 2 176 in Brussels. With 65% of all vacancies in Belgium, Flanders remains the region with the highest number of vacancies in the country. Flanders is followed by Wallonia, with 21%, and Brussels, with 14%. The vacancy rate remains higher in Flanders (3.2%) and Brussels (2.8%) than in Wallonia (2.4%).
There are 3.73 times more vacancies in large and medium-sized businesses than in small businesses. However, the vacancy rate remains higher in small businesses (5%) than in large ones (2.6%).
Although there are more vacancies for permanent jobs (85.33%), the vacancy rate for temporary positions (15.3%) is significantly higher than for permanent jobs (2.6%).
More than three quarters (78.5%) of vacancies arise in five sectors: non-profit, science and administrative services, industry, commerce, and construction.
With 67% of all vacancies in Belgium, Flanders remains the region with the most vacancies in the country. Next comes Wallonia, with 19%, then Brussels, with 14%. The vacancy rate remains higher in Flanders (3.53%) and Brussels (3.17%) than in Wallonia (2.41%).
Large and medium-sized businesses have 5.17 times more vacancies than small ones. Nevertheless, the vacancy rate in small businesses (3.98%) remains higher than in large ones (2.79%).
More than three quarters (79.1%) of vacancies are concentrated in five economic sectors: non-profit, science and services, industry, commerce, and construction.
‘Belgium in figures’ portal
Brussels Capital Region
German-speaking Community – Professions with labour shortages
German-speaking Community – Analysis of the employment situation
In respect of the available workforce and the data on jobseekers, please refer to the contributions of the different regions and the public employment services.
Flanders had a population of 6 647 506 at the start of 2021. In Flanders, too, the population continues to grow (up 5.4% compared to 2011 and 2.8% compared to 2020). The population consists of slightly more women (50.5%) than men (49.5%).
Age distribution is changing considerably as the population ages (figures for 2020): there are almost 1.358 million people aged 65 or over, which now represents 20.5% of the population (18.2% in 2010). Since 2016, there have been more senior citizens than young people (under-18s, who make up 19.4% of the population). The working-age population (the 18-64 age bracket) numbers 3.986 million, which represents an increase of 94 763 since 2010. As a result of the continued strong growth of the labour force (those in work and jobseekers), unemployment remains structurally high, even during a prolonged period of economic growth.
In Flanders, 74.5% of the population aged 20-64 were in work in 2020, while only 3.2% of the labour force were looking for work. A little over 25% of the working-age population have no job, are unemployed or are inactive. These are mainly young people (including students) and older people (including early retirees). Belgium’s ‘lemon-shaped curve’, characterised by a high level of employment among people aged between 25 and 54, and little employment among those aged under 25 or over 55, is also evident in Flanders.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, youth unemployment in Flanders increased from 9.5% in 2019 to 10.8% in 2020, although this is significantly lower than the Belgian average. The percentage of young people leaving education with no qualifications has fallen drastically in recent years, and stood at 6.2% in 2019, the lowest level since the measurement of this indicator began.
Overall, Flanders scores well within the European Union in terms of the most important labour market indicators. One weak point, however, is the very low employment rates among so-called ‘disadvantaged groups’. These are primarily those with low skills, only just over half of whom have a job (53.7% of those aged 25 to 64 in 2020). However, the employment rates among people over 55 (55.7% of those aged 55 to 64 in 2020), migrants (in 2020, 59.1% of those aged 20 to 64 and not born in one of the 28 EU Member States) and disabled workers (45.6% of those aged 20 to 64 in 2019) are also much too low. There has, however, been a considerable increase in the employment rate among people over 55 in the last few years and, thanks to the strong rate of increase in recent years, the target of 50% by 2020 has now been achieved in Flanders.
Given that the number of available jobs is higher in Flanders than in Belgium’s other regions, relatively few Flemings work in Wallonia or abroad. It is the Brussels Capital Region that attracts the most commuters from Flanders: 9.2% of Flemings work in that region. Approximately 3% of Flemings commute to Wallonia or abroad on a daily basis (figures for 2018).
The process of de-industrialisation in the last decade has not left Flanders untouched: a quarter of industrial jobs have been lost since the 1980s. Industry (including construction) still accounted for 21% of total employment in 2018. As a result, there are hardly any industrial firms among the major employers nowadays. The most important is Volvo Cars in Ghent, the largest industrial employer in Flanders, with more than 6 000 employees. There is also AB InBev, the largest brewer in the world, which employs more than 3 200 people in Belgium. Another important employer is Lier-based Van Hool, the Belgian manufacturer of coaches and industrial vehicles, which employs over 4 000 people in Flanders and North Macedonia.
The largest employers are service companies in the communications and transport sectors (NMBS, bpost and Proximus), finance (the ‘big banks’) and distribution (supermarkets, such as Colruyt, Delhaize and Carrefour). The private services sectors account for a 47% share of total employment, while public and subsidised services account for 31%.
The move from industry to services, technological advances and globalisation has also resulted in marked changes in the qualifications structure. The demand for highly skilled jobs continues to increase, at the expense of medium-skilled jobs. In 2018, the former accounted for 46.8% of all jobs in Flanders. These were mainly in management, intellectual or scientific positions in education, business services, ICT services and healthcare.
Medium-skilled jobs made up 43.6% of jobs. Above all, jobs have been lost among industrial production workers and administrative staff. The proportion of low-skilled jobs remains fairly stable, at just under 10%, and these jobs are mainly filled by maintenance and cleaning staff, a sector that is growing as a result of the service voucher employment scheme.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, the number of job vacancies (jobs under ordinary economic conditions, excluding temporary agency work) received by the Public Employment Service of Flanders (VDAB) fell sharply in the course of 2020.
In April 2021, 27 138 vacancies in the normal economic circuit, excluding temporary agency work [Dutch-language abbreviation: NECzU] (not including vacancies from recruitment and selection offices), were reported directly to the VDAB. For the month of April, this is high in any case, but here it is 124.3% up compared to April 2020. This high percentage difference is not only due to the high number of reported vacancies, but also because an extremely low number of vacancies was reported in April 2020 (the first full month of the COVID-19 lockdown).
In the past 12 months (May 2020 to April 2021), 262 119 vacancies were reported to the VDAB. That is 4.4% down on the preceding 12 months, a good performance in light of the still low growth figures and uncertain economic conditions.
The number of sectors reporting more vacancies in the last 12 months than in the 12 months before that is increasing. Energy, water and waste processing is the fastest-growing sector. Metals, construction materials manufacturing, financial services, and public administration are also among the high-scoring sectors. Other sectors have reported far fewer vacancies in the past 12 months than in the preceding year. Some sectors have suffered greatly during the COVID-19 crisis. Over 12 months, 37% fewer vacancies were reported in the hospitality and tourism sector. However, there is some catching up taking place here: in the past month, five times as many vacancies were reported than in April 2020. This exceptional percentage increase is of course related to the low number of vacancies reported in April last year and the planned (partial) reopening of the hospitality industry on 8 May. Other industry, business services and graphic design, and paper and cardboard are also among the poorer-performing sectors, but reported more vacancies this April than in the – abnormal – month of April 2020.
The VDAB’s annual survey of professions with labour shortages indicates that it is very difficult to predict to what extent the search for personnel will temporarily or structurally bear the consequences of this uncertainty. The list of professions with labour shortages will look somewhat different in 2021 compared to other years.
Aside from the impact of coronavirus, the ‘classic’ professions with labour shortages remain. Healthcare, construction, the technology sector and IT continue to be sectors with large numbers of professions with labour shortages. Finding technical personnel remains difficult for many employers. The shortage is also causing major problems within the health and welfare sector, which has faced additional challenges this year. In addition to these ‘fixed values’, there will be a number of new professions with labour shortages in 2021, apparently as a result of the large gap between the expectations of employers and candidates.
Nursing, of course, remains the biggest shortage area in this public health crisis, but finding technical personnel also remains difficult for many employers. Half of the Top 10 professions with labour shortages are technical positions, such as industrial installation technician, construction site manager/supervisor, and maintenance mechanic. Other professions in the Top 10 are ‘classics’, such as tractor-trailer driver and ICT analyst/developer. Domestic cleaner and bookkeeper/accountant have also been professions with labour shortages for years, but are in the Top 10 for the first time.
Public Employment Service for Flanders (VDAB) vacancy report
VDAB: Professions with labour shortages in 2021
At the end of April 2021, Flanders had 178 230 unemployed jobseekers. This is 11.7% down on a year earlier (April 2020), when the coronavirus crisis had already had a significant impact on jobseeker figures. The current number is in fact lower than the figure for April 2019 (pre-coronavirus), when the VDAB recorded 180 345 unemployed jobseekers. These figures include only unemployed jobseekers, not those temporarily laid off.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, unemployment in most occupational groups did of course increase initially, but not as much as generally expected. In some professions (e.g. sales personnel and drivers), the labour reserve actually decreased. The increase was particularly large among hospitality workers.
Despite a significant recovery in recent years, many jobs have been lost, especially in manufacturing and construction. This is also clearly reflected in the unemployment figures. In Flanders in April 2021, it was predominantly sales staff (32 600), but also production workers in various sectors (31 200), who were looking for work. Other major occupational groups with high levels of unemployment are: warehouse workers, loaders/unloaders and packers (24 000), general clerical workers (22 500), cleaning and maintenance staff (21 500), builders and building technicians (13 100), hospitality staff (20 200), specialised clerical workers (14 700), and drivers (12 100).
This summary shows that there is a very large labour reserve, especially in a few low-skilled occupational groups, above all in the logistics, sales, hospitality, cleaning and transport sectors.
However, there is also a labour reserve, albeit generally on a much smaller scale, among highly qualified occupational groups. Examples include computer scientists and ICT workers (3 900 jobseekers), managers (8 000), technical managers (2 400), specialists in knowledge management and communications (3 100), and nurses and carers (10 500). Although there are several thousand jobseekers, this reserve is generally not enough to fill the numerous vacancies in growth sectors where recruitment is highly dynamic. This is true of, among others, professions in the ICT and nursing sectors, which are among those with the greatest shortages. In addition, not all jobseekers are eligible for the vacancies that exist because their profiles do not always match the requirements of the job in question.
Public Employment Service of Flanders (VDAB) report on jobseekers
VDAB Arvastat [labour statistics application]
In 2020, the Brussels Capital Region accounted for 754 287 jobs across its territory, making the Belgian capital the main area of employment in the country. Brussels is very attractive to jobseekers. A large proportion of these jobs are not held by Brussels residents: in 2020, there were a total of 754 287 jobs in the Brussels Capital Region, of which 368 672 (48.9%) were held by commuters (233 706 from Flanders and 134 966 from Wallonia). Conversely, 16.2% of Brussels residents work outside Brussels (76 435, with 52 759 (69%) working in Flanders and 23 677 (31%) in Wallonia).
The Brussels Region is also characterised by a rather unique demography. Of the three Belgian regions, the Brussels Capital Region is seeing its population grow the fastest. In the period from 2015 to 2020, the labour force in Brussels (population aged 15 to 64) increased by 3.5%, while Flanders only saw an increase of 0.6% and Wallonia saw a decrease of 0.3%. This demographic dynamic is both a challenge for the region and a strength for the future of the Brussels economy in light of the ageing European population.
In addition, the presence of international institutions (European Union, NATO, etc.) and the fact that Brussels is the capital (and therefore the initial port of access for international migration), attract workers from all corners of Europe, as well as non-EU citizens. This has made Brussels even more cosmopolitan and home to a large concentration of foreign nationals. According to Federal Government figures on origin, in 2020, 72.6% of the Brussels population described themselves as being of foreign origin (compared with 33.6% in Wallonia and 23.5% in Flanders).
The Brussels economy is heavily dominated by the service sector (91% of total employment in 2020). By comparison, tertiary activities account for significantly fewer jobs in Flanders and Wallonia, making up 76% and 78.9% of total employment in 2020 respectively. In the Brussels Capital Region, the employment structure by sector shows that 14.7% of posts are in public administration, followed by healthcare and social work (11%), teaching (9%), commerce (7.7%), and clerical and support services (7.5%). These five sectors together account for 49.9% of paid employment in Brussels. In addition, the presence of international institutions, especially those of the European Union, attracts a large number of businesses that provide support services for those institutions. The presence of international institutions was estimated to account for between 123 000 and 162 000 jobs in Brussels (48 909 directly) in 2019 (the year of the most recent figures), which would correspond to 23.2% of total employment in the region.
Employment in Brussels is characterised by high educational attainment requirements. In 2020, 62.3% of jobs in Brussels were held by highly qualified personnel (university or other higher education level), compared to approximately 47.7% for Belgium as a whole.
Like many other large urban agglomerations, the Brussels Capital Region is one of the richest in Europe (in terms of GDP), but paradoxically also suffers from high unemployment and poverty at the same time. The unemployment rate in the Brussels Capital Region is higher than in the other two regions and higher than the European average. In 2020, the registered unemployment rate in the region was 15.6%, compared to 9.1% for Belgium as a whole. As of the end of June 2020, Brussels had 89 319 jobseekers, equating to an unemployment rate of 15.7%. Youth unemployment stood at 24.3% in April 2021, when Brussels had 8 959 young jobseekers (966 fewer than in April 2020).
It is also necessary to underline the specific socio-economic context created by the public health crisis (COVID-19). Before the crisis, the economic situation was quite favourable and unemployment in Brussels had been falling continuously for years (the number of jobseekers fell by 14% between April 2015 and April 2021).
In 2020, despite the impact of the crisis, unemployment in Brussels did not increase significantly. Between March 2020 and March 2021, the number of jobseekers increased by 2.8%, which is a relatively small rise, given the impact of the crisis on the labour market. The low level of impact on the unemployment statistics for Brussels is explained by the introduction of a series of support measures for Brussels businesses. For example, measures to support temporary lay-offs (planned until the end of June 2021) and the moratorium on bankruptcies (until 31 January 2021) had the effect of delaying or preventing the effects of COVID-19 on the employment of workers in Brussels.
In terms of sectors, all have been affected by COVID-19, especially the hospitality, commerce, tourism and cultural sectors. The logistics (and transport), construction and healthcare sectors continue to offer opportunities and provide employment despite the crisis.
Actiris [employment bureau for the Brussels Capital Region]
Figures from Actiris
Figures from the Public Employment Service for Flanders (VDAB)
Le Forem [public employment service for Wallonia]
Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis (BISA)
Portal for the Brussels Capital Region
Online portal with information on European issues
Since 1998, view.brussels has been attempting to gain insight into the gap between employment supply and demand. This gap is a barrier to professional integration and economic development. To this end, it draws up a list of professions for which vacancies are difficult to fill, known as ‘problem roles’. It also analyses the causes of these tensions in the Brussels labour market. Such vacancies are those that remain unfilled for a prolonged period and for which the recruitment level is lower than for vacancies received by the employment bureau for the Brussels Capital Region as a whole. Professions are flagged as ‘problem roles’ when it is difficult to identify suitable candidates in the labour market. It is important to point out that characterisation as ‘problems’ does not necessarily stem solely from a dearth of candidates; the causes are complex and numerous.
In 2020, 112 ’problem roles’ were identified in the Brussels Capital Region, across a number of sectors. The majority of professions in this list involve roles that have been considered to be ‘problems’ in recent years. The roles that have been flagged up as ‘problems’ on a recurrent basis include both sector-specific professions and general occupations that can be performed in most sectors.
The list of problem roles identified in 2019 is available here:
For more information on this topic, please see the links below:
More information about vacancies by sector and profession can be found via the link below:
The structure of the Brussels economy is primarily services-oriented, so offers better prospects for workers in that sector.
Furthermore, low-skilled jobseekers have greater difficulty finding a job in the Brussels Capital Region, particularly if their knowledge of languages is limited. The Region is bilingual, after all, and employees are expected to have a high level of language skills. Moreover, it is not uncommon for a knowledge of English to also be required, since Brussels is the seat of major international institutions (NATO, European Union, etc.).
The following table shows the sectors with the most unemployed jobseekers in 2020 (averages for the year).
Number of unemployed jobseekers by sector in 2019
% of total
A. Clerical work (office clerks, secretaries, etc.)
C. Arts and crafts
E. Commerce and sales support
J. Hospitality, food
S. Medical and paramedical
U. Psychosocial, culture, leisure, sport
W. Security, cleaning, environmental services
Y. Transport, storage, packing, etc. (logistics)
Source: Actiris; calculations: view.brussels
We can thus see that the highest percentages are found in ‘Clerical work’ (14.74%), ‘Security, cleaning, environmental services’ (14.4%) and ‘Transport, storage, packing, etc.’ (11.2%).
In 2020, these three areas together accounted for 40.3% of unemployed jobseekers registered with Actiris, the employment bureau for the Brussels Capital Region (annual average).
It should be noted that certain important structural changes are being driven on an ongoing basis by investments to promote the digital transition, the ecological transition and the demographic dynamics of Brussels. We should also not overlook the fact that the COVID-19 crisis will lead to structural changes in the labour market. This will have consequences on the number of vacancies and their distribution across sectors.
Employment had been rising in Wallonia for several years, but the coronavirus crisis brought that to an end. However, the impact of the crisis on the labour market remains relatively limited thanks to the measures taken by the various governments. At the end of March 2021, there were 202 978 jobseekers, up 3% on 2019 but down 0.2% on the end of March 2020. In the first quarter of 2021, the harmonised employment rate for 15-64-year-olds was 59.2%, or +0.4 percentage points compared to a year before; the harmonised unemployment rate is 7.4%.
In Wallonia, most jobs are as an employee. For several years, the number of domestic employee jobs in Wallonia (i.e. the number of employees resident in Wallonia and employed in Belgium) had been increasing each year. As a result of the coronavirus crisis, employment as an employee fell by 0.6% year-on-year in February 2021, which was less pronounced than at the start of the crisis, when the level of year-on-year change reached -1.5% in June 2020. In March 2021, 1 167 632 residents of Wallonia had at least one paid working relationship. The sectors that provide the most employment are: public administration, teaching, healthcare and social work, the wholesale and retail trade, construction, transport, hospitality, and the manufacturing industries. However, the latter sectors have been hit hard by the economic crisis and temporary lay-offs.
The self-employed have also been affected by this crisis. The number of self-employed persons is increasing in Wallonia, but at a slower pace than in the other regions. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of self-employed workers recorded by the National Institute for the Social Security of the Self-employed (NISSE) in Wallonia increased by 1.7%, compared with 1.9% for Belgium as a whole. Wallonia stands out from the other regions due to the higher number of workers for whom self-employment is a side activity in addition to being in paid employment. According to a co-publication by the Federal Planning Bureau, the Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis (BISA), the Walloon Institute for Evaluation, Prospective and Statistics (IWEPS) and Statistics Flanders, the number of self-employed workers is likely to decline in Wallonia in net terms until 2021 (-1.2% in 2020 and -1.8% in 2021).
As of 30 June 2021, there were 88 186 businesses in Wallonia with at least one employee. 25% of these are located in the following cities: Liège, Charleroi, Namur, Mons, Tournai and La Louvière. The vast majority (88.5%) employ fewer than 20 people. Only 1.9% employ more than 100 workers.
37.1% of the businesses that employ fewer than 20 workers operate in the commerce and hospitality sectors. Companies with 20 or more employees often operate in the public sector. Smaller, local companies usually operate in agriculture, construction and other services, while larger companies are well represented in industry.
Thanks to government support measures, the number of bankruptcies has remained limited. Wallonia had nearly 2 000 bankruptcies in 2020, with 3 900 jobs being lost. However, in the first quarter of 2021, 1 455 jobs were lost as a result of 476 bankruptcies. Given the fragility of the economy, the risk of bankruptcy remains very high.
Wallonia is also distinguished by greater cross-border mobility than the other two regions. More than 65% of Belgium’s outgoing cross-border workers live in Wallonia. As of 30 June 2020, 58 462 Walloons crossed a border to work, of whom 76% (44 195) were working in Luxembourg, 12% (7 086) in France and 10% (60 464) in Germany.
With the vaccination roll-out and the gradual reopening of activity in closed sectors, an economic recovery is on the horizon, which will have positive consequences for the labour market.
Le Forem [public employment service for Wallonia]
Le Forem – Figures and analysis
StatBel – Job vacancies
StatBel – Employment and unemployment
Walloon Institute for Evaluation, Prospective and Statistics (IWEPS)
During the first quarter of 2021, Le Forem, the public employment service for Wallonia, published 78 858 vacancies, 14.5% down on the first quarter of 2021. However, the decline in January and February of this year gave way to the first increase in March 2021, compared to the first month of the COVID-19 crisis.
Most of these vacancies can be found in the manufacturing industry, real estate and business services, trade and automotive repairs, construction, and real estate and business services. Some sectors that are usually major suppliers of jobs are in very sharp decline: hotels and restaurants (-52.4%), finance (-43.9%), and real estate and business services (-33.3%). The healthcare, social work and agriculture sectors have a need for more workers.
Despite a significant labour reserve (at the end of March 2021, Wallonia had 202 978 unemployed jobseekers), some businesses struggle to fill their vacancies for certain professions or positions. Since 1999, Le Forem has published an analysis of vacancies, on the basis of which it has drawn up a list of difficult-to-fill positions (‘problem roles’) and professions with labour shortages (insufficient labour available). The 2020 list (based on 2019 figures) covers 125 professions: 50 are problem roles that are difficult to fill, and 75 are problem roles with a labour shortage.
To combat those labour shortages, Le Forem organises occupation-specific and region-specific Tuesday information sessions (known as ‘Mardis d’avenir’ [Tuesdays of the Future]). Professions can also be ‘tried out’ by participating in the ‘Essais métiers’ [Job trials] programme. In 2018, two additional measures were adopted to support the system already implemented by Le Forem to tackle labour shortages. Firstly, there were ‘bespoke training programmes’ to tackle labour shortages: businesses or groups of companies seeking to engage at least eight workers in the same role could get a bespoke training programme from Le Forem. The businesses in question were required to hire at least 80% of those who successfully completed their training. Secondly, there was a financial incentive known as ‘Incitant +’ [Boosting +], under which all jobseekers who completed training in a profession with a labour shortage received a financial incentive of EUR 350. Jobseekers could also call on a coach to help prepare for the job interview that was guaranteed at the end of the training.
At the end of March 2021, Wallonia had 202 978 unemployed jobseekers, representing a fall of 0.2% compared to a year before, but a 3% increase compared to 2019. This is related to the COVID-19 health crisis and the resultant slowdown in economic activity. Among these jobseekers, 54% were male and 46% female; 18% were under 25 and 26% over 50; and 45% had not completed the last 2 years of secondary education.
Geographically speaking, the demand for work is greatest in Hainaut and in the Liège-Huy-Verviers area. The number of jobseekers is lowest in the province of Luxembourg. This is probably related to its short distance from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the increased cross-border mobility.
The number of jobseekers is largest in the tertiary (commerce, real estate and business services, hotels and restaurants) and quaternary (healthcare and social work, collective, social and personal services) sectors.
As of 1 January 2019, the German-speaking Community had 77 949 residents in an area of 853.64 km² within Belgium’s East Cantons (hence the German name ‘Ostbelgien’ or East Belgium). At present, the two groups of young people under the age of 20 and seniors aged over 70 each account for a fifth of the population. According to the latest projections, the total population will increase slightly (+2.1%) by 2030, and will actually start to decrease from 2029.
The term ‘labour force’ refers to all workers and jobseekers between the ages of 15 and 64. According to the latest figures (from 2017), the labour force consisted of 33 955 people, 31 393 of whom were working as employees or self-employed.
The economic crisis resulted in a sharp increase in unemployment, which reached 13.05% in both 2009 and 2010. It was not until 2015 that a significant fall (of 5.22%) was seen. Since then, unemployment has been declining steadily. Men and women, people aged under 25 or over 50, long-term jobseekers and ‘underqualified’ people were all able to benefit from a fall in the unemployment rate, which has since reached 7%. However, the number of jobseekers who are non-EU nationals increased by 3.9% over the same period.
People over the age of 50 make up a third of all jobseekers and have been particularly hard hit by unemployment. In the space of 14 years, their number has quadrupled. However, in 2017, 92% of the labour force over the age of 50 were in employment.
At 10.4%, youth (<25 years) unemployment in the German-speaking Community is relatively low compared with the Belgian average (15.8%).
As of the end of April 2021, just over half of jobseekers held a secondary school level qualification, while almost 1 in 5 jobseekers had attained only a certificate of primary education. At 8%, the number of jobseekers who had successfully completed a ‘dual apprenticeship’ (combined apprenticeship and studies) was almost on a par with the number of people with a higher education qualification obtained from a university or college (13%). Underqualified young people make up an ever larger proportion of jobseekers, while the number of highly qualified young people looking for work is in continuous decline.
Since 2009, there have been more jobseekers with an upper-secondary school qualification than with only a certificate of primary education. While this is an indicator of society’s higher level of education, it also demonstrates that the minimum qualification level required to get a job has changed.
Because many of its residents are bilingual and due to its favourable geographical situation – close to the French Community, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – the German-speaking Community has many commuters: the number of Belgians commuting to work in Luxembourg continues to rise, reaching 4 080 in 2018. In contrast, the number of Belgian residents working in Germany has been falling since 2007: whereas at that time, a total of 6 684 people commuted across the border each day, by 2019 that figure had fallen to 5 888.
According to the latest figures (for 2018), 2 243 employers currently employ a total of 22 683 people in the German-speaking Community. Most workers can be found in manufacturing (22%), health and social care (14%), commerce (13%), education (11%), and communication and financial services (11%).
Overall, the balance sheet for businesses remained positive (+7.2%) in the period 2008-2018.
Public employment service:
Economic and Social Council of the German-speaking Community
Annual socio-economic study:
The list of training courses for professions with labour shortages in the German-speaking Community for the years 2020 and 2021 included the following professions:
engineer, nurse, care assistant, secondary school teacher (lower and upper levels), primary school teacher, technical draughtsperson, technician (graduate level), accountant, social worker, teacher (A1), IT technician, administrative manager, secretary or general office staff, wage clerk, transport agent, driver, machinery operator, turner, locksmith, mechanic, heating and sanitation fitter, welder, electrician, electrical engineer, carpenter, joiner, painter and decorator, bricklayer and tiler, roofer, baker, butcher, construction machinery operator, chef and kitchen staff, hospitality staff.
Vacancies (jobs portal)
Much of the available workforce in 2015 was from professions in the fields of commerce or repair work (11%). 8% of jobseekers worked in the medical, veterinary or social field, and another 8% in public or private services. Those looking for jobs in the construction industry accounted for 6% of all jobseekers, followed closely by those in telecommunications and transport (5%), and real estate, leasing and business services (5%). Finally, a similar number of jobseekers worked in the hospitality sector (5%) and in public administration, defence or social security (5%).
In 2018, 2 in 10 jobseekers said they were looking for work as a labourer, while 14% were looking for a job in sales or an office. 8% of jobseekers expressed a desire to work in cleaning services or hospitality, while 1 in 20 were looking for a career in health or personal care.
Analysis of the labour market and its prospects as part of an Integrated System for Labour Market and Skills Research (ISAQ) study
Analysis of unemployment in the East Cantons