1. Assessment and Recommendations

The Brussels-Capital Region is the largest commuting zone in Belgium. The population of the Brussels-Capital Region was around 1.2 million inhabitants in 2021, compared to around 6.7 million in the Flemish Region and 3.7 million in the Walloon Region, the two other regions of Belgium. There are over 824 000 working-age inhabitants (defined as 15-64 years of age) in the Brussels-Capital Region. This corresponds to 67% of its total population, compared to 63% in the Flemish Region and 64% in the Walloon Region. The surface area of the Brussels-Capital Region covers only 162 square kilometres. However, its functional urban area – or commuting zone – which extends well into parts of the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region, is home to a population of over 3.3 million and covers over 4 800 square kilometres.

A distinct feature of the Brussels-Capital Region is its highly diverse population. In 2022, 53% of the Brussels working-age population was foreign-born, reflecting its attractiveness to both EU and non-EU migrants. Both groups made up 24% and 30% of the local population respectively. The profile of working-age migrants from EU-27 countries differs significantly from that of migrants born outside the EU-27. In 2021, 59% of migrants aged 25 to 64 who were born in EU-27 countries were highly educated, many working for the European institutions and the organisations surrounding them. Among non-EU migrants in the same age category, only 31% are highly educated, while 39% have low levels of education.

Labour force participation in the region is low. The labour force participation rate in the Brussels-Capital Region, defined as those either employed or unemployed among the population aged 15 to 64, stood at 66% in 2010 and rose only slightly to 68% in 2022, remaining well below that of comparable OECD metropolitan areas. The unemployment and long-term unemployment rate are gradually coming down. Both measures declined from 17.1% to 11.4% and from 9.5% to 6.1% between 2010 and 2022 respectively, but also remain above the OECD average.

Total labour demand has increased significantly over the past decade. The total number of job vacancies reported by employers in the Brussels-Capital Region to the Public Employment Service (PES) rose from 18 000 in 2009 to 67 000 in 2022. Similarly, online job vacancies posted by local employers increased from 66 000 to 245 000 between 2018 and 2022. While this upward trend can partly be explained by an increasing propensity of employers to report vacancies, the job vacancy rate has also increased over time, from 2.8% in 2012 to 3.2% in 2019 and 4.0% in 2022. The rise in labour demand has been uneven across economic sectors. Logistics and the industry sector, which include occupations such as machinery mechanics, electromechanics and welders, experienced the highest increase in the number of reported job vacancies through 2022.

Despite this overall rise in demand for workers, employment rates among people with lower levels of education remains low. In 2022, the employment rate of individuals with low levels of education in the Brussels-Capital Region was 44%, compared to 60% on average in the OECD and 84% among highly educated individuals in the region. While a relatively lower labour market attachment of those with a lower level of education is a feature of many OECD urban labour markets, the share of such individuals is very high in the Brussels-Capital Region. In 2020, the share of 25- to 64-year-olds with only lower secondary education stood at 27%, well above that in comparable OECD metropolitan areas such as Berlin (13%), Amsterdam (16%) and Vienna (17%), and other Belgian regions (Flemish Region: 18%; Walloon Region: 23%).

This report offers recommendations for i) labour market governance, ii) labour market programmes iii) the labour market integration of individuals with migration backgrounds and iv) skills and adult learning.

Successive reforms of the Belgian State have shifted far-reaching responsibilities in employment and skills policies from the federal level to lower levels of government. This shift has created new structures, without always reforming legacy arrangements and organisations.

Subnational governments in Belgium have major responsibilities for policies that support the labour market integration of the unemployed and the economically inactive. The region’s public employment service (PES), Actiris, implements regional competence in the field of employment and runs a large portfolio of Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs). In contrast to regional government responsibilities over employment and economic policy matters, Belgian language Communities have competence over policies such as education and health. Belgium is composed of three Communities based on language, the Flemish (Vlaamse Gemeenschap) French (Communauté française) and German-speaking (Deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft) Communities. Community authority does not fully overlap with the territorial divisions of regions. Due to the Brussels-Capital Region’s bilingual status, this division of powers gives the French and Flemish Communities responsibilities for vocational training of jobseekers.

The Brussels-Capital Region is unique in the OECD for separating ALMPs for employment services from those for labour market training into three institutions. Actiris is the main point of contact for jobseekers and employers. Actiris matches jobseekers to vacancies, conducts availability checks and administers active labour market programmes, such as employment incentives. Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel (Vlaamse Dienst voor Arbeidsbemiddeling en Beroepsopleiding Brussel) provide labour market and vocational training in French and Dutch respectively. The split in ALMPs responsibility is unique compared to the other Belgian regions (Table 1.1). This arrangement is also unique considering other OECD countries with decentralised responsibilities for ALMPs. Subnational PES usually manage both jobseeker placement and training (e.g. Denmark, Spain, Canada, Poland), while national government sets policy orientation and administers unemployment insurance benefits.

In most OECD countries, PES advise individuals on training options, though provide limited training in-house. In the Brussels-Capital Region, Actiris sends jobseekers to Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel for training, which both contract out part of their services to certified public, private and social economy organisations. Jobseekers can also use training vouchers (chèques formation et chèques TIC) to enter other training options. The training bodies in the region also run a large share of their labour market training in-house. In most OECD countries, PES contract out nearly all training to specialised providers such as vocational schools or social economy organisations. Other PES in the OECD contract out training to ensure cost efficiency and labour market relevance of training, as extensive teaching and vocational expertise is not typically available in-house.

Agreements between Actiris and its training counterparts facilitate jobseeker pathways. A 2012 “Employment Training” agreement (accord de coopération relatif aux politiques croisées emploi-formation) between Actiris and Bruxelles Formation offers financing mechanisms between the bodies and develops joint projects. The politiques croisées agreement took major steps to articulate Actiris and Bruxelles Formation services through financing and joint assessment. Cooperation between Actiris and VDAB Brussel, meanwhile, is guided by an agreement in which Actiris refers jobseekers to VDAB Brussel for jobs requiring Dutch. A 2021 agreement furthered collaboration between Actiris and VDAB Brussel through different measures, including expanded data exchange, to encourage a greater number of jobseekers in the region to take up jobs in the Flemish Region.

Despite progress made through agreements, institutional barriers remain to streamline labour market services and jobseeker orientation. A potential disconnect continues to exist between case handling and training referral, calling for an integrated and unified registration process and orientation of jobseekers. Jobseekers can shift between organisations and counsellors throughout their journey. VDAB Brussel policies are also less interlocked with those of Actiris and Bruxelles Formation, leaving room for closer integration of programmes, such as joint assessment of jobseekers. Outside the agreements, cooperation has yielded projects of interest, such as the Employment Training Hubs (Pôles Formation Emploi - PFE) or the Cité des métiers. Due to the separation of powers between governments, these have not aimed to integrate jobseeker journeys between institutions.

Municipalities (communes) and specialised social economy bodies are the main point of contact for vulnerable individuals who receive social benefits. Municipal CPAS (Centres publics d’action sociale – CPAS) administer social benefits, including the Belgian minimum income benefit, “Social Integration Revenue” (Revenu d’intégration sociale - RIS). In addition to benefit administration, CPAS provide minimum income recipients with social and labour market activation measures. CPAS remit over ALMPs partly originates in their power to deliver “CPAS contracts” (Article 60/Emplois d’insertion) to incentivise hiring of RIS recipients in the local community. CPAS also have a partnership with Actiris that outlines their role in helping social assistance recipients into jobs. Actiris finances CPAS activities for this group.

CPAS (Centre public d’action sociale) face capacity gaps that weigh on their ability to provide employment services to the most vulnerable. Data suggest social needs are growing in the region. The number of RIS recipients as a share of the total regional population increased from 2.8% in 2015, to 3.3% in 2019 and to 3.6% in 2022. Rising numbers of minimum income recipients and a stronger policy emphasis on the labour market integration of individuals registered with CPAS has raised the importance of helping minimum income recipients find jobs.

Faced with similar challenges, OECD countries have explored different ways of delivering ALMPs to the most vulnerable who do not benefit from unemployment insurance benefits. Some countries have increased the role of PES for this group, while others have strengthened the structural capacity of municipalities to deliver labour market services. In the region, Actiris already delivers its services to a share of people receiving social assistance benefits from CPAS. In June 2023, over 15 500 CPAS clients were enrolled in Actiris, or 21.7% of all registered unemployed in Actiris. CPAS counsellors, however, continue to face difficulties to provide services to all claimants as the number of applicants rises and social needs become more complex.

Actiris and CPAS contract out a range of programmes to different groups of social economy organisations that perform social and labour market integration. They include work integration social enterprises (entreprises d’économie sociale d'insertion), led by the Brussels-Capital Region through Bruxelles Economie Emploi (BEE) in collaboration with Actiris. Agences Locales pour l’Emploi (ALE) provide part-time work while jobseekers are unemployed. Entreprises de Tavail Adapté (ETA) provide sheltered and supported employment. They also include a group of organisations operating at the municipal level focused on basic training, labour market services and social activation programmes for vulnerable groups. These include the Lokale Werkwinkels, Missions locales, Organismes d’insertion socioprofessionnelle (OISP) and Socioprofessionele Inschakeling (SPI).

While the different social economy schemes are an asset for social inclusion in the region, complex governance and project-based financing can pose challenges to social economy organisations delivering ALMP programmes. Social economy schemes such as ALE and entreprises d’économie sociale d'insertion are not always linked. As shown in Table 1.2, social economy schemes provide labour market services along with CPAS. Small organisational size and reliance on project-based financing also poses challenges to provide long-term services. Complex accountability structures may further affect programme responsiveness. Mission locales boards, for example, are composed of representatives from municipal government, private actors and social partners.

Maisons de l’emploi offer strong prospects to develop into wrap-around service delivery points. Local Actiris offices are located within Maisons de l’emploi. Maisons de l’emploi group together local employment actors within a single structure, including social economy schemes. Providing employment and related services through “one-stop” shop solutions to meet the holistic needs of individuals is a trend also observed in other OECD countries (e.g. Denmark, Finland, and France). In some municipalities in the region, the different services, however, are not operating in a single location. Furthermore, some actors such as Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel are not always associated. Based on practice occurring across the OECD, governance questions will need to be resolved through clear and innovative ways of delimiting responsibilities, incentives and mechanisms to deliver services. Maisons de l’emploi offer an opportunity to clarify the roles of different actors to maximise the use of resources.

The Brussels-Capital Region’s unemployment and long-term unemployment rates declined steadily over the past decade but nevertheless remain high. In 2022, the unemployment and long-term unemployment rate among individuals aged 15 to 64 in the region stood at 11.4% and 6.1% respectively in 2022. While these headline indicators remain high compared to other OECD metropolitan areas, the Brussels-Capital Region’s labour market showed resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, partly supported by the federal government’s income and liquidity support measures that mitigated the pandemic’s effect on labour markets across Belgium. As employment rates among medium and high-skilled Bruxellois rise, the region brings policy focus to those with lower levels of education and more complex needs.

The very low labour force participation in the Brussels-Capital Region is to a large extent driven by people with a lower level of education. Among less educated working-age men and women, the labour force participation rate stood at 51.2% and 31.6% in 2021 respectively. The participation rate is significantly below the EU-27 average for those with lower level of education, for both men (59.9%) and women (41.7%). In addition, the share of less-educated is also relatively high in the Brussels-Capital Region. The share of 25- to 64-year-olds in the Brussels-Capital Region’s population who obtained only lower secondary education or below stood at 26.9% in 2020, above the level of Belgium as a whole (20.2%) and the EU-27 (21.0%), and well above that of OECD metropolitan areas such as Vienna (16.7%), Berlin (12.9%) and Stockholm (11.4%). The low participation rate among the less-educated is partly caused by a lack of demand for low-skilled labour. While the demand for high and medium-level educated workers in the Brussels-Capital Region’s rose significantly even before the COVID-19 pandemic, labour demand for less-educated workers was low. Between 2010 and 2019, the ratio of vacancies over jobseekers reported to Actiris that required medium and high levels of education rose from 0.2 to 0.5 and from 0.6 to 0.8 respectively. For less educated workers, the ratio remained constant at 0.1 over the same period.

The tightening of the labour market presents policymakers in the Brussels-Capital Region with an opportunity to also boost participation of the less educated and the economically inactive. Between 2019 and 2022, labour demand rose most sharply in logistics and administrative professions but also increased in professions that tend to require relatively lower levels of education, such as security and cleaning. The recent rise in demand for workers in professions that require low and medium levels of education presents an opportunity for the Brussels-Capital Region to facilitate the integration of those with a higher labour market distance into the labour market. Additional efforts to increase the size of the labour force will also help alleviate the pressure faced by local employers that increasingly struggle to fill vacancies with adequately skilled workers.

The relatively high demand for less educated workers in those parts of the Flemish Region that surround the Brussels-Capital Region may present additional opportunities for jobseekers with lower skill levels and the economically inactive. The Brussels-Capital Region’s functional urban area, or commuting zone, extends well into parts of the Flemish and Walloon Regions and is home to a population of 3.3 million. An analysis of job vacancy data from Flemish Brabant, the Flemish province surrounding the Brussels-Capital Region, shows that a significant share of job vacancies in Flemish Brabant matches the profile of jobseekers in the region. For instance, in 2022, 17 700 job vacancies in Flemish Brabant only required a low level of education, corresponding to approximately 2 in 5 of all vacancies posted. The potential of the Flemish labour market for jobseekers based in the Brussels-Capital Region has also been acknowledged in an agreement to facilitate interregional mobility between the Brussels-Capital Region and the Flemish Region signed in 2021. It was followed up by a cooperation agreement between Actiris and VDAB in 2022.

Some sectors offer opportunities for those with lower levels of fluency in Dutch. While Dutch language requirements in some sectors such as trade and sales may pose an obstacle to cross-regional mobility, other sectors such as transport and logistics offer employment opportunities without significant investment into language skills. To encourage mobility, Actiris covers transportation costs for those attending Actiris partnered job fairs or interviews in the Flemish and Walloon Regions. The federal government – through its unemployment insurance fund – also offers a mobility allowance for people in long-term unemployment for a maximum of three months. Actiris’ principal tool for mobility to the Flemish Region lies in commissioning with VDAB Brussel to place jobseekers interested in Dutch language workplaces. Jobseeker mobility has been significantly strengthened by the 2021-2022 agreements between the Brussels-Capital Region and the Flemish Region and regional PES, including a much broader exchange of vacancies.

Labour force participation among older workers in the Brussels-Capital Region is also significantly below that of comparable OECD metropolitan areas. Demographic change brings about new labour market challenges. Across the OECD, the ratio of people aged 65 and over to people of working age is projected to rise from 1 in 4 in 2018 to 2 in 5 in 2050. Working closely with employers to ensure that older workers remain part of the labour force has therefore become a priority across the OECD. In the Brussels-Capital Region, the labour force participation rate among workers aged 55 to 64 years and those older than 65 stood at 60.1% and 4.7% respectively in 2020. In both age groups, the participation rate is well below the OECD average of 64.4% for 55-to 65-year-olds and 15.5% for workers aged over 65. By comparison, Stockholm manages to retain 24.5% of workers above the age of 65 in its labour force.

Actiris offers a wide range of job matching services and labour market programmes comparable to national public employment services in the OECD. Federal and regional government in Belgium devote a greater share of expenditure on active labour market policy (ALMP) relative to the OECD average. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2019, federal and subnational employment services in Belgium jointly spent 0.92% of GDP on active labour market programmes, compared to an average of 0.63% across OECD countries. There may not be a need for the region to increase spending on ALMP, but rather to refocus spending on high impact services.

Actiris job matching is based on a counsellor-led approach with support from digital tools. Jobseekers can register for Actiris online and self-manage their job search through the MyActiris job matching platform. Specialised counsellors, meanwhile, work directly with employers. A single full-time Actiris counsellor managed an estimated 120 jobseekers in 2022. The Actiris “Link” programme, in which jobseekers who complete training are given the option to follow intensive counselling, may serve as an intensive counselling approach for those most in need of help. In Link, counsellors have a caseload of around 30 jobseekers. Short-term unemployed jobseekers with the capacity to manage their job search independently may also not make sufficient use of online self-service tools. Between January and September 2022, less than half of jobseekers registered with Actiris online (46%). In countries such as Sweden and the United States, for example, nearly 91% and 77% of jobseekers registered respectively online in 2021.

Automatic vacancy transmission with the Walloon Region may not be fully developed as it is with the Flemish Region. Actiris receives vacancies in other Belgian regions both from the other regional PES and directly from employers. The number of job offers received from VDAB has increased from nearly 376 000 in 2021 to almost 760 500 in 2022 since the automated data-exchange between VDAB and Actiris started. However, only 11 000 job offers from Le Forem in the Walloon Region were available in Actiris in 2022, despite mounting labour shortages in southern Belgium. Job offers in the Walloon Region present specific opportunities for Bruxellois given lower language barriers.

Belgium has relatively less strict criteria around the job search process to continue receiving unemployment insurance benefits in comparison to other countries. The federal government defines criteria around suitable employment to be sought and accepted by jobseekers, geographic mobility criteria, job-search requirements and sanctions. As Belgian regions define the ways in which evaluations are carried out, they have considerable leeway in the implementation and operationalisation of federal rules.

Availability and job search requirements are relatively less strict in Belgium, while sanctions are steeper relative to neighbouring countries. Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits in Belgium are unique in the OECD for their unlimited duration, calling attention to the expectations placed on jobseekers to search for work. Geographic mobility criteria are of comparable strictness to the OECD average. A firmer application of geographic mobility criteria (maximum 60 km or two-hour one-way commute), while also taking personal circumstances into account, could encourage jobseekers to accept jobs in the region’s periphery. This approach would build on progress made since 2022, which instituted new collaboration between Actiris and VDAB. Rules around job search intensity are lower than in most neighbouring countries. For example, Actiris carries out initial availability check at the earliest after nine months of unemployment, while the German PES already carries out such checks within six months of unemployment. Finally, sanctions for failure to comply with rules are steeper in Belgium compared to most neighbouring countries.

A major focus of Actiris ALMPs include employment incentives, aimed at encouraging employers to employ jobseekers. Employment incentives absorb the largest share of spending on active labour market programmes in Belgium aside from PES administration. Federal and subnational PES in Belgium devote 25% of spending on ALMPs to employment incentives, compared to 3% in France and Germany, 4% in the Netherlands and 49% in Luxembourg. Programmes in the region include the activa.brussels hiring subsidy available to all jobseekers, or Stage First to encourage employers to hire young people. Reductions in employer payroll contributions are also used.

Employment incentive schemes are not paired closely with labour market training and are not sufficiently targeted. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, the Brussels-Capital Region spent a little under 20% of its labour market expenditure on training, a smaller share compared to the Flemish Region (25%) and the Walloon Region (31%). According to a survey of Actiris’ active labour market programme participants, 60% of activa.brussels and Stage First participants did not receive in-work training. Training paired with incentive programmes can help participants meet the potential skill requirements to transition into unsubsidised labour when the wage subsidies are phased out.

Currently, some but not all labour market policy programmes are evaluated. Institutions such as View.brussels and the Institut Bruxellois de Statistique et d’Analyse (IBSA) are growing their programme evaluation role. As the region considers changes to programmes, including greater evaluation of labour market programmes can help assess what works given the region’s specific population. Indeed, its highly distinct population makeup may limit transferability of labour market policies trialled and evaluated elsewhere. View.brussels may prioritise evaluation of the host of employment incentives in the region.

The quality of jobs is a challenge requiring greater consideration in active labour market programmes while not excluding temporary employment as an opportunity. Contractual quality and earnings at the low end of the income distribution are a greater challenge in the region compared to other parts of the coutnry. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, temporary employment reached 15.5% in the Brussels-Capital Region, 5.6 percentage points higher than the Flemish Region (9.9%) and 3.7 points greater than the Walloon Region (11.8%). Involuntary part-time work as a share of total employment stood at 9.4% in 2018 in the Brussels-Capital Region, a share that is also significantly higher than in the Flemish (3.9%) and the Walloon (5.9%) Regions. It is important to note temporary employment can be a first step into a job for many of the most excluded. Falling working conditions in sectors with high labour demand in the region and its periphery may also be contributing to labour shortages, further raising the need for policy attention. Counsellors have an important role to play to consider individual situations while being cognisant of the low durability of matches to low quality jobs.

The diverse population is one of the greatest assets of the Brussels-Capital Region, but some segments of the population with a migration background require additional support to become economically active. Not all groups of migrants are equally well integrated into the labour market. Only 61% of migrants aged between 15 and 64 years born outside the European Union were part of the region’s active labour force in 2019. A large gender gap in labour force participation among non-EU born migrants persists. In 2019, only 49% of women aged between 15 and 64 years old who were born outside the EU-27 were economically active in the Brussels-Capital Region. The labour force participation rate of working-age women born outside the EU-27 is higher in other large OECD cities such as Berlin (59%), Vienna (60%) and London (65%). One of the reasons for the low labour market attachment of non-EU-27-born migrants is the large share of family migrants. In the Brussels-Capital Region, more than half of the working-age non-EU-27-born migrant population came for family reasons rather than for employment. Among family migrants, 63% are female and 43% have a low level of education. The labour force participation rate of non-EU-27-born migrants who came for family reasons is 35 percentage points lower than for those who came for employment.

The government of the Brussels-Capital Region has reacted to the challenges faced by its migrant population by drawing up a plan to combat labour market discrimination and promote diversity. Amongst others, the “15 pledges” by the government of the Brussels-Capital Region include documenting acts of labour market discrimination more accurately, engaging with the private sector to combat hiring and on-the-job discrimination, improving public sector diversity, simplifying the reporting and sanctioning of discriminatory acts in the labour market, supporting victims of discrimination in the labour market and improving the recognition of prior skills of jobseekers who obtained their education abroad.

Discrimination in the labour market poses a barrier to employment for people with a migration background. For instance, several experiments that send fictitious CVs to employers in the Flemish Region establish strong patterns of hiring discrimination. While experiments at the same level of detail are not yet available for the Brussels-Capital Region, self-reported discrimination data indicate that some migrants experience discrimination in the labour market. Some progress has been made to promote diversity plans in companies of the Brussels-Capital Region through Actiris’ employer Diversity Plans. Diversity Plans involve a differentiated offer to employers to help them mainstream good practices to support diversity in the workplace – including with respect to migration background – through human resource practices. Since 2010, 273 employers have developed Actiris-supported Diversity Plans.

People with a non-EU-27 migration background are also underrepresented in the public sector of the Brussels-Capital Region. The public sector employment rate among migrants with a non-EU-27 background is at a similar level as private sector employment. The public sector therefore does not yet fully reflect the diversity of the city. In 2019, 35 208 workers of Belgian origin aged 18 to 64 years worked in the public sector, corresponding to 21.5% of the Belgian-born population in the same age group. By comparison, only 11.4% of migrants originating from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb region, the largest groups of immigrants from outside the European Union in the Brussels-Capital Region, were employed in the public sector.

A challenge faced by migrants who originate from non-EU-27 countries is the lack of recognition of their formal education obtained abroad. People with a migration history who are employed are more likely to be overeducated than the native-born. 44% of registered job seekers with Actiris are foreign-born people whose degrees have not been recognised. In the Brussels-Capital Region, an administrative process run by Belgium’s language Communities is required for regulated professions such as accountants and teachers. Across the EU, it is estimated that around 20% of workers are employed in regulated occupations. Although this process can be lengthy, it is needed for this group of occupations. Those seeking work in unregulated occupations do not require a specific degree. Employers can decide whether a candidate is suitable for the job, offering greater policy leeway for the region to encourage informal recognition.

Language skills in French and Dutch are strong predictors of labour force participation among migrants from non-EU-27 countries but a large share is lacking these skills. In 2021, non-EU-27 born migrants aged between 25 and 64 years who spoke French or Dutch as their mother tongue were 7.2 percentage points, 10.1 percentage points, 30.0 percentage points more likely to be economically active than advanced, intermediate and beginner-level speakers respectively. Non-EU-27 born migrants with hardly any or no language skills in French or Dutch were 38.9 percentage points less likely to be part of the labour force. Among non-EU-27 born migrants, a share of 23% report only intermediate proficiency in at least one of the local languages, while 17% report beginner-level or no language proficiency. Among migrants registered with Actiris who obtained their highest qualification abroad, one in three have at most basic skills in either Dutch or French, signifying the importance of language training.

Language and a broader civic integration training benefit newly arrived migrants with a low attachment to the labour market. In the Brussels-Capital Region, newly arrived migrants from non-EU countries who register with a municipality are required to take a mandatory integration course. These integration courses are offered by the Dutch-speaking and the francophone communities. They consist of an assessment of education and qualifications, a civic integration course, a language course (either Dutch or French) and basic labour market counselling. Beyond these mandatory integration courses, a plethora of language and vocational training courses exist for Brussels’ migrant population but these are no longer mandatory.

Services combining language training and childcare offers are important to facilitate access to employment for women with a migration background. Women of all origins across Belgian regions are more likely to be involuntarily economically inactive to look after children and other dependents than men, but the number of children in households of foreign origin is higher on average. Actiris has taken specific steps to support jobseekers with childcare responsibilities through partnerships with childcare centres in the Brussels-Capital Region. The initiative includes the Actiris Maison d’Enfants temporary day-care centre for parents and guardians for emergency needs during their job search and for the first three months of employment.

Workers and jobseekers in the Brussels-Capital Region need to upgrade their skills to respond to the changing job requirements on the labour market. Despite the large number of training options, however, participation in adult learning is currently low in the Brussels-Capital Region in international comparisons. The share of adults aged 25 to 64 years old who state they participated in education or training over the past four weeks reached 14% in 2022, compared to 28% in Amsterdam, 21% in both Vienna and Oslo, and 16% in London. A breadth of options exists for workers, jobseekers and economically inactive people to participate in training and adult learning in the region. Although a breadth of labour market training and adult learning options exist in the region, the system faces challenges. Workers and jobseekers in the Brussels-Capital Region need to upgrade their skills to respond to the changing job requirements on the labour market.

The rising demand for digital skills and the green transition are transforming the labour market at a rapid pace. For instance, the number of online job postings listing advancing digital skills as a requirement rose from 25% in 2018 to 31% in 2022. The Brussels-Capital Region has also emerged as a leader in the green transition. The share of jobs that can be classified as green-task jobs rose from 19% in 2011 to 26% in 2021, compared to a much slower rise from 16% to 18% in the OECD as a whole.

Language requirements pose a major obstacle to employment in the Brussels-Capital Region’s labour market. In 2019, approximately 40% of all job vacancies submitted to Actiris listed Dutch language skills in addition to French language skills as a requirement to perform the advertised job. Another 20% of job vacancies listed English language skills as a requirement, in part reflecting the size of the labour market surrounding the European institutions. Online job postings, which tend to be more representative of the medium to high skilled segment of the service sector, paint a similar picture. Seventeen percent of online job postings by employers in the Brussels-Capital Region list Dutch language skills as a requirement, a share well above those in all other parts of Belgium, including Belgian arrondissements that lie on the border of language zones. The significantly higher Dutch language requirements in the Brussels-Capital Region are still visible when differences in the type of vacancies by occupation, sector and educational requirements are accounted for.

While the higher Dutch language requirements may reflect the presence of clients with a strong affinity for Dutch and local employers with operational links to the Flemish Region, these high language skill requirements are not matched by the base of jobseekers in the Brussels-Capital Region. Only 28% of registered French-speaking jobseekers state they also have at least an intermediate knowledge of Dutch. Moreover, among jobseekers who obtained their education abroad, a category which includes mostly migrants born outside of Belgium, 1 in 3 do not possess a sufficient knowledge of French to enter the labour market. Strong evidence suggests that improving language skills among jobseekers leads to better employment opportunities, in particular if combined with vocational training. However, less is known about whether the relatively demanding language skill requirements listed by employers in the Brussels-Capital Region and its commuting zone correspond to the skills necessary to perform tasks on the job.

Expanding modular courses that offer digital skills and language training is one policy option that has proven successful for migrants in other OECD metropolitan areas. In 2022, 59% of all jobs advertised online by employers in the Brussels-Capital Region listed at least basic digital skills as a requirement. Giving migrants the option to attain digital skills has several key advantages, in particular when combined with language training. First, digital skills are in high demand across the OECD and jobs that require information and communication technology (ICT) skills usually fall into the medium to high-income range. Second, basic as well as specialised ICT skills can be taught in short modular courses. Third, the language barrier in the ICT sector tends to be lower than in other professions.

Dialogue with employer representatives and unions occurring across organisations could grow to include a yearly detailed survey of skills needs. Multiple platforms exist for dialogues with employers and trade unions, such as the regional social and economic council, BruPartners, or employer relations undertaken by Actiris, Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel. The Instance BassinEnseignement qualifiant, Formation, Emploi, an organisation that brings together francophone VET actors to discuss skilling priorities, surveys employers to help produce a yearly priority list of occupations. An employer skills review which includes jobs on the Dutch-speaking market and a broad set of skill priorities, however, does not yet exist. Although organisations conduct extensive dialogues with inter-professional social partners and individual employers, dialogue with sectoral social partners is still developing in the region.

Employment Training Hubs (Pôles Formation Emploi - PFE) are public-private partnerships to strengthen the links between the social partners and vocational training on a sectoral basis. PFE are a joint initiative by Actiris, Bruxelles Formation, VDAB Brussel and sectoral representatives to design and dispense training jointly in four sectors, construction, digital jobs, technical jobs and logistics. The PFE sectoral approach may be systematised to more sectors, including parts of the public sector with recruitment needs (health, education).

Complementary and promising options for adult vocational education exist outside the Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel offering. For example, this includes the francophone enseignement de promotion sociale (EPS) and organisations dispensing teaching in Dutch, such as the Centrum voor volwassenenonderwijs. VDAB Brussel has a strong cooperation in place with the Flemish Education system. Bruxelles Formation also cooperates with a number of EPS tracks. Learners who participate in adult vocational education such as EPS can often access diploma-bearing higher skill level options. Multiple tracks in the adult learning system, particularly in health care and social work, are characterised by labour shortages. With the region facing a need to upskill its population to harness the benefits of its dynamic labour market for higher skill jobs, these options are important to complement the existing offering.

For learners, enrolment in the different systems generates different qualifications and benefits. Participation in adult vocational education such as EPS does not qualify learners for a EUR 2 per hour allowance, unlike Bruxelles Formation training, unless tracks are certified by Bruxelles Formation. Qualifications or completion certificates produced by Bruxelles Formation, on the other hand, face recognition challenges among employers. Syntra apprenticeships also faces challenges with qualification recognition within the public sector. The qualifications dispensed by EPS, meanwhile, include secondary school diplomas (CESS – Certificat d’enseignement secondaire supérieur) or others recognised with strong labour market recognition.

Despite growing policy attention, barriers face the dual learning (alternance) system for both young people and adults. Dual learning offers alternating class and work-based learning. In the francophone community, dual learning is administered by COCOF SME dual learning system (Service Formation des PME/ Espace Formation PME – SFPME/EFP) and the French Community dual apprenticeship system (CEFA – Centre d'Éducation et de Formation en Alternance). Despite the job prospects they offer young people, the SFPME/EFP and CEFA systems may not be effectively linked up with Actiris and Bruxelles Formation. For those that graduate from the SFPME/EFP system, the qualifications they earn may not be adequately recognised by the education system, blocking upskilling pathways.

High dropout rates are another barrier for the capacity of vocational education and training to upskill and place people into jobs. A 2022 study by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, the Walloon Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the COCOF estimates over 50% drop out rates in dual learning tracks across francophone Belgium. Learner social vulnerability is a challenge across vocational tracks in Brussels and a potential driver of high dropout rates. Based on benefit statistics, Bruxelles Formation estimates half of its learners live in precarious conditions or near poverty.

Actiris provides training vouchers (chèques formation), though their use is limited due to conditionality. Training vouchers can be used for a large range of training offers outside Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel. Actiris provides half the funding for individuals through training vouchers, with a ceiling of EUR 2 250, while the remainder has to be covered by the employer or the learner. The Actiris training voucher is only applicable to job seekers who have secured a job and require training during the initial six months of work. Limiting training vouchers to individuals who have found work limits their use. It also appears as an administratively burdensome way to provide jobseekers with remedial labour market training.

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