5. The future of work and skills policies in the Brussels-Capital Region

Across the OECD, megatrends such as the increasing digitalisation, the automation of specific tasks in production processes, the transition towards net-zero carbon emissions, and ageing societies are transforming labour markets at a rapid pace. The demand for specific skills and the way jobs are carried out are changing in all cities and regions across the OECD. However, the local net welfare and employment effects of these megatrends vary across places due to differences in local industrial structures and the extent to which occupations are exposed to transformative forces (OECD, 2018[1]).

Well-targeted policies can help minimise the negative labour market effects and reap the benefits of transformative processes in the Brussels-Capital Region. Managing the transformation of labour markets requires local policymakers to gain a clear understanding of how the different megatrends affect the local workforce and develop appropriate policies in response. Job loss, skills mismatches, and a strong polarisation into well-paying and precarious jobs are all potential negative consequences of the Brussels-Capital Region’s labour market transformation if the process is not managed well. On the other hand, new machines and digital tools can greatly enhance the productivity of workers, allow for greater occupational mobility and thus open opportunities to earn higher wages. The green transition has already created new jobs in the region and will continue to do so if policymakers seize the opportunity to attract green investment and develop the right set of skills in their local workforce. Re-training and up-skilling measures will also play an important role in managing the increasing automation of production processes. Recent advances in artificial intelligence have shown that the need for constant re- and up-skilling now spans across all education and income groups.

A breadth of labour market training and adult learning options exist in the Brussels-Capital Region. While there are many different adult learning options to up- and re-skill, this chapter places a particular focus on vocational education and training (VET) and labour market training available to jobseekers through training vouchers. While French and Dutch language skills are important for newly arrived migrants in Belgium, many arrive with relevant vocational skills and professional degrees and may not require labour market training. To ensure their successful labour market integration a systematic recognition of qualifications earned abroad is important.

The remainder of the chapter is divided into two sections. The first section discusses different trends that impact on the Brussels-Capital Region labour market at present and going forward, including the digital transition, automation and artificial intelligence, the green transition, population aging and language requirements. The second section reviews the region’s skills policies and how they support the labour market in transition. A specific focus is places on labour market training, dual learning as well as vocational education and training (VET).

This section discusses the importance of labour market megatrends in the labour market of the Brussels-Capital Region. The first subsection presents evidence for the rapid pace of the digital transition, by analysing changes in the demand for digital skills in the Brussels-Capital Region. The second subsection then offers a discussion of the effect of automation and artificial intelligence on work processes, based on the latest OECD research on the topic. The third subsection then covers the green transition, presenting novel estimates of the prevalence of green and polluting jobs in the Brussels-Capital Region. The fourth subsection turns to the ageing population and the need to retain older workers in the workforce. Finally, the last section analyses language requirements in the region.

The increasing demand for workers with digital skills is a trend observed across the OECD. Modern jobs increasingly necessitate basic or advanced digital skills and the ability to operate in a technology-driven environment. The acquisition of digital skills is therefore crucial for individuals to thrive in the labour market, as these skills maximize opportunities, facilitate efficient work in across a wide range of economic sectors, and play a crucial role in driving productivity and growth. While the digitalisation of work has started long ago with the rise of computers, recent developments have further accentuated the importance of digital skills. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant rise in the need for remote work capabilities. Consequently, digital skills are recognized as one of the key cross-cutting competencies (OECD, 2021[2]). Simultaneously, employers in numerous European nations have expressed concerns about their employees’ lack of digital proficiency, prompting substantial investments in digital education (European Commission, 2020[3]).

Online job postings constitute a valuable source of information to assess the local demand for digital skills. Looking at the requirements of online job postings offers a timely option to measure labour demand and the changing skills mix required to succeed in the local economy. The job task descriptions listed in online job postings can be used to assess the demand for digital skills. This report distinguishes between two types of information and communication technology (ICT) skills: Generic ICT skills, which refer to the performance of basic digital tasks such as the ability to use word processing software, and advanced ICT skills, which refer to tasks such as coding and programming.1

The demand for digital skills in the Brussels-Capital Region’s labour market is on a par with that of OECD cities at the technological frontier. Figure 5.1 shows the share of online job postings that list generic and advanced ICT skills in their job description, in national and international comparison. In 2018, the monthly average share of job postings by employers in the region that list at least basic ICT skills was 58%, rising slightly to 59% in 2022. Generic digital skills requirements are significantly above that of other Belgian cities such as Antwerp, Ghent, Leuven or Liege (Panel A) and on a par with global cities such as Paris and Berlin (Panel C). A similar picture emerges when analysing online job vacancies that require more advanced ICT skills. Panel B shows that between 2018 and 2022, the share rose from a monthly average of 25% to 31%, faster than in other Belgian and OECD metropolitan areas. By 2021, the share of online job postings by employers in the Brussels-Capital Region listing advanced ICT skills was on a par with Berlin, Paris and New York City (Panel D).

In addition to the increasing demand for digital skills, a significant share of jobs will likely be automatable in the future. Within the OECD, approximately 46% of employment opportunities are at risk of being automated. These at-risk jobs can be further categorized into two groups: highly automatable jobs, which have a likelihood of automation surpassing 70%, and jobs that will experience substantial changes in their tasks and required skill sets due to automation. Throughout the OECD, about 14% of jobs fall into the highly automatable category, while an additional 32% face a significant risk of being strongly affected by automation. On average, the impact of automation on metropolitan areas within the OECD is relatively minor, mainly due to their emphasis on service-sector positions (OECD, 2018[1]). Latest advances in AI will allow to automate some non-routine cognitive tasks, making its effects on the labour market distinctly different from previous waves of automation: High-skill occupations such as lab technicians and engineers will be most exposed to the new wave of AI. However, the number of jobs at risk in high-skill professions is likely to be limited compared to automation waves that replaced manual labour. High-skill workers are more likely to carry out tasks that require skills such as inductive reasoning or social intelligence, which AI in its current form does not possess (Georgieff and Hyee, 2021[5]). AI will complement the work of many workers in these occupations, thereby increasing their marginal productivity and wages, and may replace the work of some who will be forced to adapt (Lane and Saint-Martin, 2021[6]). Similarly, recent advances in large language models (LLM) may affect most of the work force to some extent. Estimations show that LLMs are likely to be able to perform 15% of all tasks in the US economy at the same level of quality as employed workers but will not replace workers entirely (Eloundou et al., 2023[7]).

The advancement of automation and AI may further exacerbate inequalities in the Brussels-Capital Region. In the Brussels-Capital Region, where 27% of the working-age population has lower levels of education, increasing productivity differences between the low and the high-skilled may ultimately result in an even larger wage gap. For instance, firms that adopt AI technologies already show significantly higher labour productivity and lower labour shares in their production, while skills requirements are raised (Acemoglu et al., 2022[8]). Thus, productivity gains linked to firms’ adoption of AI will mostly pertain to those workers who can efficiently complement their work with new AI technologies.

Training courses that support less educated workers and those with a migration background in acquiring digital skills can benefit their position in the labour market. Across the OECD, only one in four adults with low skills across the OECD participates in job-related education and training in any given year, compared to three in five highly skilled adults (OECD, 2019[9]). In the Brussels-Capital Region, a large share of the less educated population has a migration background (see Chapter 2). Engaging less educated adults in training that facilitates their digital upskilling will therefore also benefit social cohesion. Box 5.1 describes two successful local initiatives that target disadvantaged group with digital skills training, the TechGrounds in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and the ReDI School of Digital Integration in Berlin, Germany. A common foundation of both initiatives is their strong link to employers in the ICT sector.

The world faces the formidable task of addressing climate change and environmental degradation, but the lack of skilled workers could impede the green transition. This transition to a sustainable and net-zero economy will bring about significant changes in local labour markets, necessitating workers to move into new occupations and sectors. This shift, coupled with other megatrends like digitalisation and demographic change, will reshape the job landscape. The greening of the labour market will have various effects, including the emergence of new job opportunities, the potential loss of existing jobs in polluting industries, and the need for updated skills across multiple sectors. Education and training programs must be rethought and updated to equip workers with the necessary skills for the changing labour market (OECD, 2023[12]).

To assess how well labour markets are managing the green transition, the OECD calculates the number of local green and local polluting jobs. The OECD approach first identifies tasks that are part of new and emerging green occupations that were created in the economy in response to a rise in green economic activities. It then analyses the task content of each occupation group and classifies those jobs with a green task content of more than 10% as green. Polluting jobs are determined by first identifying the occupations that are very prevalent in highly polluting industries. Occupations that are at least seven times more likely to be found in highly polluting industries than in any other industries are identified as polluting occupations. For a detailed overview of the methodology, see Box 5.2.

The Brussels-Capital Region is one of the OECD regions with the highest share of green jobs. Across the OECD, regional labour markets differ substantially in their greenness. The leading regions record employment shares in green-task jobs of around 30%, while in those regions at the bottom, green-task jobs only account for less than 10% of employment. In 2021, 26% of all jobs in the Brussels-Capital Region were green, a substantial rise from 19% in 2011 (Figure 5.2, Panel A). Across the OECD, few metropolitan areas have higher shares of green jobs, with only Stockholm (32%), London (30%) and Oslo (30%) slightly ahead of the Brussels-Capital Region. Both in the Walloon Region and the Flemish Region, the share of green jobs stood at 21% in 2021.

Similarly, the share of polluting jobs in the Brussels-Capital Region is low, as is the case in most metropolitan areas. In 2021, the share of polluting jobs stood at 7% in the Brussels-Capital Region, well below the OECD average of 12% and on a par with leading metropolitan areas such as Stockholm (6%) and London (5%; Figure 5.2, Panel B). In Belgium, polluting jobs in emission-intensive sectors, such as mining or oil and gas, are concentrated in the Flemish (13% in 2021) and the Walloon Region (12% in 2021).

New labour market challenges arise in the OECD due to ageing workforces. The ratio of individuals aged 65 years and above to those of working age is expected to increase from 1 in 4 in 2018 to 2 in 5 by 2050 within the OECD (OECD, 2019[14]). Consequently, it has become a priority for OECD countries to encourage the continued engagement of older employees in the labour force. The recognition of the difficulties involved in retaining older workers while ensuring satisfactory work conditions and quality of life has resulted in an OECD Council Recommendation on Ageing and Employment that rests on three fundamental principles: (i) valuing work and promoting later retirement, (ii) fostering employability throughout individuals’ working lives, and (iii) encouraging employers to retain and hire older workers (OECD, 2018[15]). Progress has been made in the first two principles across OECD countries, although the same cannot be said for the third. Employers often perceive older workers as more costly, and concerns about their productivity may give rise to age-related discrimination (OECD, 2019[14]). An analysis of the labour force participation rate of older workers in comparison to that of individuals in their prime working age can shed light on the barriers older employees encounter in the labour market.

The Brussels-Capital Region’s population is young in international comparison, but the old-age dependency ratio is projected to rise fast over the coming decades. Panel A of Figure 5.3 shows that the old-age dependency ratio, defined as the share of the local population aged 65 years and older divided by the local population aged 15 to 64, is low in the Region in national and international comparison. In 2020, there were more than five people of working age in the Brussels-Capital Region for each person of pension age, reflecting a young urban population. However, the old-age dependency ratio will increase significantly in the region. By 2050, demographic projections show that there will three people of pension age for every ten people of working-age.

Labour force participation among older workers in the Brussels-Capital Region is low in international comparison. In the Brussels-Capital Region, the labour force participation rate among workers aged 55 to 64 years and older than 65 years stood at 60.1% and 4.7% respectively in 2020 (Panel B of Figure 5.3). 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 above 65. While other Belgian cities such as Leuven (61.7% among workers aged 55 to 64), Ghent (58.3%) and Antwerp (56.9%) show similar levels of labour force participation among their older population, some OECD cities manage to retain significantly larger shares of their older population in the labour force. For instance, in Stockholm, 85.5% of the population aged 55 to 64 years and 24.5% of people above the age of 65 years are part of the labour force.

Most policy options to retain older workers in the workforce are competences of the national government but regional and local governments can complement these with targeted skills development training. There are three policy pillars to retain older workers in the workforce. The first pillar is to improve incentives to work at an older age. These incentives usually involve raising the retirement age or introducing financial incentives for older workers to postpone retirement. The second pillar is tackling employer barriers to hiring and retaining older workers, which is most effectively achieved by policies that penalise laying off older workers or subsidising the hiring of older workers. The third pillar is to improve the employability of older people through a lifecycle approach that offers skills training courses to workers according to their age. Regional and local policymakers can design training courses according to the needs of local old-age workers (OECD, 2020[16]). Across the OECD, the Netherlands, Iceland, and New Zealand show good results in retaining older workers in the labour force. In these countries, regional and local initiatives play a significant role in delivering job-related training to this group. (OECD, 2023[17]; OECD, 2020[16]). Box 5.3 summarises two such initiatives with a strong local dimension.

A planned pension reform in Belgium may increase the effective retirement age and increase labour force participation among older workers. While the statutory retirement age of 65 in Belgium is above the OECD average of 64, its effective retirement age of 61 is below the OECD average of 63 (OECD, 2022[18]). A pension reform, which is part of the federal government agreement, is planned for 2024. While details are still under debate, the focus of the reform is planned to be on policies that delay retirement decisions and improve the employability of older workers, for instance by introducing a pension bonus that rewards longer careers (OECD, 2022[18]). Such a reform would likely have a positive effect on labour force participation and should be accompanied by measures that improve working conditions and decrease hiring discrimination of older workers.

Hiring discrimination against older workers presents an additional obstacle to employment for older workers in Belgium. Lippens, Vermeiren and Baert (2023[22]) document that older workers aged between 55 and 64 years receive only about half the callbacks of younger equally qualified candidates in Belgium when sending out job applications. Such hiring discrimination extends unemployment spells and thereby increases long-term unemployment and economic inactivity among older workers. Local policies can support older workers in their job search and engage with employers to raise awareness of discriminatory practices.

The Brussels-Capital Region is officially bilingual. While French is the region’s lingua franca, its labour market is characterised by the presence of numerous regional and federal public institutions that work in Dutch and/or French (see Chapter 3). Its proximity to the Flemish Region further provides a market-based argument for employers to hire French and Dutch speakers that may allow serving customers in both languages. Consequently, in 2019, 2 in 5 job vacancies received by the regions Public Employment Service (PES) Actiris explicitly listed language requirements in French and Dutch.2 Multilingualism has further gained importance over the past decades due to the presence of multinational companies and international institutions.

The return on investment into language skills in both French and Dutch is high for jobseekers in the Brussels-Capital Region. To understand the link between the language skills of jobseekers and the probability of finding employment, Actiris documented the language skills of jobseekers who were registered with Actiris in January 2019 and then followed them for a period of 12 months. The study finds that jobseekers with an intermediate knowledge of the second national language had a 10.5 percentage points higher exit rate into employment than jobseekers who do not speak or have very limited knowledge of the second national language (Actiris, 2020[23]). The results are driven by jobseekers with low and medium levels of education rather than those with high levels of educations, for whom the knowledge of the second language mattered less for the probability of finding employment. A second study carried out by Dewatripont (2022[24]) specifically focused on the importance of Dutch language skills. The analysis shows that the level of Dutch is a significant predictor of finding durable employment among French-speaking jobseekers of Belgian nationality.3 The probability of finding employment is almost 50% higher for a fluent Dutch speaker compared to a jobseeker with only a basic knowledge of Dutch, even when socio-economic differences between jobseekers and past unemployment history were accounted for. The study further shows that women in the Brussels-Capital Region and those Bruxellois who live in municipalities with the lowest employment rates (see Chapter 2) benefit most from having Dutch language skills.

Jobseekers registered with Actiris often lack language skills required to succeed in the labour market. An assessment based on self-reported language skills shows that 18% of jobseekers have at most basic skills in their preferred language (Actiris, 2020[23]). This share reaches 33% among migrants who obtained their highest qualification abroad. Among French-speaking Belgian jobseekers, only 19% speak Dutch at an advanced level (Dewatripont, 2022[24]).4 Language training, in particular for migrants who speak none of the two official languages therefore remains imperative.

Occupation-specific language training has the highest payoffs for migrant jobseekers. OECD analysis shows that language training is most efficient for migrants when it includes components of occupation-specific language training. Across the OECD, vocational language training can be categorised into (i) vocational language courses tailored to specific high-need occupations (ii) language courses focused on general workplace scenarios or job interviews (iii) “on-the-job” language sessions in partnership with specific employers and (iv) language training in connection with Active Labour Market Policies and job placement (OECD, 2021[25]).

Dutch language requirements in the labour market of the Brussels-Capital Region are higher than in Walloon arrondissements bordering the Flemish Region. The main reason for employers outside the public sector to require jobseekers to have language skills in both French and Dutch is the potential to serve both French-speaking and Dutch-speaking customers in Belgium. While only the Brussels-Capital Region is officially bilingual, this argument is also relevant for employers in arrondissements that are in close geographical proximity to the language border. Figure 5.4 therefore compares Dutch language skill requirements in online job vacancies posted by employers in the Brussels-Capital Region to Dutch language skill requirements in Walloon arrondissements that are located at the border to the Flemish Region. In the Brussels-Capital Region, 17% of job vacancies posted online require some level of Dutch language skills, significantly above the arrondissements of Nivelles (13%), Waremme (5%), Tournai (4%), Liege (4%) and Ath (3%).

Dutch language requirements in online job vacancies posted by employers in the Brussels-Capital Region are higher than in the Walloon Region even when accounting for differences in the types of jobs and other requirements listed in these postings. An OECD analysis of Dutch language requirements in online job vacancies posted between 2018 and 2021 shows that Dutch language requirements are significantly more often listed in the Brussels-Capital Region than in the Walloon Region. Table 5.1, column (1), shows that the estimated likelihood of an online job posting listing Dutch language requirements is about 5.2 percentage points higher in the Brussels-Capital Region even when the sector of the employer seeking to hire and the educational requirements for the unfilled position are accounted for. Columns (2) and (3) show respectively that this result also holds when estimates are further conditioned on granular occupational codes and the interaction of these occupational codes with educational requirements. Finally, columns (4) and (5) show that the results are also robust to excluding the public sector and restricting the sample of online job postings in the Walloon Region to Walloon arrondissements that border the Flemish Region.

Actiris could start a dialogue with employers in the region and support these in drafting job postings that only list essential skills. While the higher Dutch language requirements in the bilingual Brussels-Capital Region may to some extent reflect the presence of clients with a strong affinity for Dutch and employers with operational links to the Flemish Region, these may not be necessary for all positions. Actiris could start the process of reviewing job vacancies it receives from local employers and flag language requirements that may be excessive. Actiris could then propose to employers to review these vacancies.

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, participation in adult learning is currently low in the Brussels-Capital Region compared to other metropolitan areas in the OECD. 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 Vienna and Oslo and 16% in London (Figure 5.5).

The section therefore presents challenges facing the VET system in the region. The first sub-section considers opportunities to develop the sectoral approach to training, building on Pôles Formation Emploi (PFE). The second sub-section explores differences between vocational training and education systems, and consequences for the qualifications and benefits earned by learners. The third sub-section discusses barriers to the attractiveness of VET in the region and ways to reduce high dropout rates within the dual learning system, alternating in-work and classroom-based training. A fourth sub-section discusses ways of better leveraging the Actiris training voucher system as a complement to the public vocational offer. The section concludes with a review of occupational pathways for newly arrived migrants who often do not require training for successful labour market integration, but recognition of their qualifications earned abroad. For the purposes of this section, formation professionnelle as delivered by Bruxelles Formation and the VDAB Brussel is defined as labour market or vocational training, while vocational education is taken to encompass adult learning and dual learning for young people and adults run by the French and Flemish Communities.

There is a strong sectoral dimension to training participation in the region. Certain sectors facing shortages in the region and its periphery, such as construction or transportation and storage, record a low share of employees in training. Figure 5.6 shows differences in employee participation in training or education that can vary over 20 percentage points between fields of economic activity in the region. Although participation of those unemployed or economically inactive is higher than many employees, it represents less than a fifth of individuals in this group. Large variation in training participation between fields of economic activity can be addressed through a sectoral approach to training.

Responding to this challenge, the region introduced Pôles Formation Emploi (PFE) to involve employers and trade unions in sectoral training options. Across OECD countries, interest in sector-based approaches to training is growing to face skills needs tied to the digital and green transitions. The PFEs are Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) that involve Actiris, Bruxelles Formation, VDAB Brussel and sectoral representatives of employers and workers. Four PFE operate in the Brussels-Capital Region, each corresponding to a sector (Construcity, Digitalcity, Logisticity, Technicity). Some sectoral training funds finance PFE training. Training is provided in-house by Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel or by one of their partners. In their respective sectors, the PFEs are also tasked with carrying out studies to monitor changes in professions and skills requirements.

Instance Bassin may be a fitting body for engagement with sectoral representatives on employer skills needs and utilisation in the francophone space. The Instance Bassin – Enseignement qualifiant, Formation, Emploi – is an organisation with offices and staff across francophone Belgium that brings together vocational and education actors to discuss skilling priorities. In the Brussels-Capital Region, Instance Bassin activities include the production of a yearly publication of training across the capital as well as a list of priority occupations. The yearly publication includes a list of recommendations relating to strengthening or creating training for different occupations facing shortages (Instance EFE, 2022[26]). To produce this publication, Instance Bassin issues a survey to employers in which they report their hiring needs.

Sectoral engagement may be strengthened through a broader approach to gathering detailed and up-to-date information on skills. The employer survey run by Instance Bassin could build the basis for a more far-reaching survey of employers and unions. The PFEs are already engaged in developing studies to identify changes in professions and skills in their respective sectors. In the United Kingdom, a country-wide employer survey also gathers information on the underutilisation of employee skills, anticipated needs in the next year, the level of employer financial investment in training and the business and workplace strategies (UK Government, 2020[27]). The social and economic council, Brupartners, may also serve as a forum for regular dialogue with sectoral employer organisations and unions. Trade unions can play a role to provide information and input on the quality (i.e. pay, safety, benefits) of in-work portions of training, such as dual learning and apprenticeships (TUAC, 2016[28]).

In the Brussels-Capital Region, two tracks provide francophone classroom and work-based learning, known as dual learning. The French Community operates dual learning for young people up to age 21 tied to secondary schools, the Centres d'Éducation et de Formation en Alternance (CEFA). CEFA programmes cover an array of sectors (e.g. accommodation, care, construction, tourism) and remain strongly linked to the francophone Belgian education system. The French Community’s authority in the region, the French Community Commission (Commission communautaire française – COCOF), operates the Service Formation des PME (SFPME). SFPME coordinates classroom and employer placements through the Espace Formation PME (EFP) centre, a not-for-profit organisation. SFPME/EFP is a dual learning system for young people and adults oriented towards work in SMEs, with a particular focus on training in the trades.

The Flemish Community runs dual learning in Dutch in the Brussels-Capital Region. Dual learning in Dutch combines work-based learning with an employer with learning at different providers of dual learning. Classroom-based learning includes schools for full-time vocational secondary education, part-time learning in Centrum voor Deeltijds Onderwijs (CDO), Syntra Brussel apprenticeship campuses as well as schools for specialised secondary education. Since 2022, the Flemish Community also opened dual learning tracks in its adult education centres, Centrum voor Volwassenenonderwijs (CVO).

High dropout rates are a barrier to dual learning capacity to upskill and place people into jobs. A recent study estimates that around 50% of students leave tracks by the second year of two-year CEFA programmes (Walloon Region, French Community, Brussels-Capital Region and COCOF, 2023[29]). Similarly, around 60% of young people depart EFP programmes early by the third year. Programmes that accompany individuals, and particularly youth, into and through dual learning may help support dual learning completion. In different OECD countries, governments manage pre-training programmes which ready young people for the educational requirements and habits to succeed in dual learning. In Austria, the pre-VET “education-fit” programme (AusbildungsFit) provides an additional year of school for young people to acquire the foundational skills and workplace habits necessary to success in dual learning.

Vocational education and training and lifelong learning options for adults are delivered through different systems in the region. As across many OECD countries, different types of training are dispensed based on skill level and target groups, such as unemployed people, workers or young people (OECD, 2022[30]). In the Brussels-Capital Region, Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel operate and certify labour market training for jobseekers in French and Dutch respectively. Limited to the francophone space (Table 5.2) illustrates the four actors dispensing vocational tracks to those over 18 in the region. The French Community provides dual learning for youth and adults as well as adult vocational education, Enseignement de promotion sociale (EPS). EPS is tied to the francophone education system. Bruxelles Formation certifies a limited number of EPS tracks. The French Community also provides vocational secondary education (Enseignement secondaire qualifiant) for young people in vocational tracks.

Certain vocational education tracks such as EPS present strong labour market prospects for francophone jobseekers. EPS vocational education tracks offer access to middle or higher skill occupations (e.g. nurse). Multiple EPS occupational options, particularly in health care and social work, are vocational tracks which were characterised by labour shortages in 2022 according to view.brussels and Instance Bassin (Bassin EFE Bruxelles, 2022[31]). Due to their strong institutional education element, EPS tracks tend to include a greater degree of transversal education. OECD research in Finland suggests completion of longer self-motivated adult learning tracks can pay off through successful labour market entry after completion (OECD, 2023[32]). The foundational education in EPS is of particular benefit to the large share of jobseekers with low levels of education in the region who require longer periods of skilling.

Certificates delivered by different VET systems do not offer equal labour market recognition for jobs in the same sectors. EPS and French Community dual learning centres (CEFA – Centres d'Éducation et de Formation en Alternance) dispense qualifications with high levels of employer recognition. EPS tracks give access to school degrees, such as the Certificat d’enseignement secondaire supérieur (CESS), due to their stronger links with the education system (Table 5.3). Certificates delivered by Bruxelles Formation or the SME dual learning system, the Service Formation des PME/Espace Formation PME (SFPME/EFP), meanwhile, sometimes suffer from recognition challenges among employers who prefer credentials from the education system. Strengthening recognition of Bruxelles Formation training and dual learning certificates among employers may attract greater numbers to vocational training and further raise its placement potential.

Participants in Bruxelles Formation training are automatically eligible for a training allowance, though most EPS tracks are left out. Participation in Bruxelles Formation training grants individuals a training allowance of EUR 2 per hour of training in addition to Unemployment Insurance (UI) (Table 5.2). Bruxelles Formation participation also reimburses course costs and transportation.5 Most EPS tracks do not grant allowances, despite the in-demand tracks available in EPS, and cost reimbursement conditions are more limited. Many OECD governments decide training allowances based on in-demand occupations. In France, for example, the Île-de-France region offers a total EUR 1 000 to EUR 2 000 allowance to jobseekers to enter a defined set of training tracks (Île-de-France, 2023[33]). Those EPS tracks leading to occupations facing shortages may be considered for an allowance, while all EPS should be considered for similar reimbursements for transportation and registration as available in Bruxelles Formation. Broadening monetary incentives may also require considering the different lengths of VET due to the longer length of EPS tracks, and potentially setting a maximum duration.

Actiris provides training vouchers for digital skills, languages and sectoral training. Based on the type of voucher, Actiris partially or fully subsidises training. The training vouchers (chèques formation) can be used for a vast range of training offers. 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. Language and IT skill vouchers, meanwhile, can be used with more flexibility for shorter trainings focused on developing the targeted skill set with certified providers.

Use of training vouchers is limited to a small share of jobseekers due to access conditions. Limiting training vouchers to individuals who have found work may limit their use. It also appears as an administratively burdensome way to provide jobseekers with remedial labour market training. To benefit from vouchers, jobseekers also have to meet one of four conditions: (1) very low levels of educational attainment (maximum secondary school diploma – CESS), (2) over two years of unemployment, (3) at least 46 years of age or (4) disability.

By reducing conditions to access, training vouchers could be mobilised for more individuals for training unavailable in Bruxelles Formation or VDAB Brussel. France’s 2018 expansion of the Compte personnel de formation (CPF), a universal contribution-based access to contracted training, may offer insights for the region. Although the CPF has a broader vocation and it not limited to jobseekers, lessons are emerging relating to provider approval. For instance, a 2023 evaluation of CPF reform by the French Court of Auditors highlights the need for specific regulatory attention to quality control, fraud reduction and credential-bearing training (Cour des comptes, 2023[34]). Training certification processes already in place within Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel may be able to serve this purpose.

Actiris vouchers may also gain from strong guidance to appropriate training connected to skills assessment. In a recent evaluation of training vouchers in the United States, a study contracted by the US Department of Labor concludes that counselling is likely to support programme success, compared to voucher programmes in which jobseekers guide themselves through the selection process (MSG, 2021[35]). Increasing Actiris counsellor knowledge of the region’s skills system will be key to further deploy vouchers. Ensuring voucher expansion is made in tandem with Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel is also key to minimise duplication and coordinate the training offer. The skills assessment within Actiris for jobseekers is also an opportunity to tighten links to appropriate voucher use (Actiris, 2023[36]).

A more systematic recognition of qualifications earned abroad can improve the labour market outcomes of foreign-born people. While efforts have been made to promote the recognition of foreign qualifications for highly educated migrants in most OECD countries, challenges remain. The lack of information and clarity, the length and the cost of the procedure are considered the main barriers across OECD countries (OECD, 2017[37]). Addressing these issues would make the recognition process more accessible to foreign-born people, helping them find a job or improving their labour market situation. In addition, a more widespread use of the recognition offer could improve staff motivation and productivity within firms. Finally, the investment of governments in making the recognition process quicker and smoother could contribute to increasing growth and competitiveness and promote social inclusion (Figure 5.7).

In the Brussels-Capital Region, 44% of the registered job seekers with Actiris are foreign-born people whose degrees have not been recognised. This corresponds to slightly less than 40 000 jobseekers whose labour market prospects could be increased significantly, if their qualifications were recognised. Among them one in four has tertiary education and, hence, represent an important resource for the local economy, which characterised by an increasing number of vacancies requiring high qualifications (see Chapter 2).

People with a migration history who are employed are more likely to be overeducated than the native-born. Unrecognised foreign qualifications represent a barrier for employed people with migratory history, as revealed by the higher degree of people born outside the EU with levels of education above their current occupation (Figure 5.8). It is worth mentioning that the higher share of over education might be influenced by the limited language skills and the discrimination against foreign-born people that might exist in the workplace.

In the Brussels-Capital Region, the French and Flemish Communities dispense official recognition of secondary, tertiary and adult vocational education qualifications earned abroad. Individuals submit documentation to Community governments. The process lasts between two months for people who studied within the EU and four months for those who have a non-EU diploma. For example, the process for recognition by the French Community involves submitting certified copies of diplomas and payment of a fee (French Community, n.d.[39]). Official recognition can include both the level of education (e.g. upper secondary) and specific field of study (e.g. accounting). The first type of recognition gives only access to unregulated occupations, while the second one can be used to continue education or access regulated occupations.

Regulated occupations require official Community recognition to work in the profession. These occupations include for example accountants, psychologists or teachers, but also occupations such as technical professions in construction and food services (1819.brussels, 2022[40]), where there are labour shortages in the region. Although according to the 2016 EU Survey of Regulated Occupations only 20% of workers have regulated occupations in the EU, it is important to find solutions for migrants wishing to enter in those fields, especially if they are characterised by high labour shortages. In Canada for example, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) aims to find migrants who had regulated occupations in their own countries alternative careers related to their qualifications. CIC collaborates with the provincial governments, as well as professional associations, employers and education institutions to identify the best career options for highly qualified migrants. This approach ensures recently arrived migrants can quickly enter the labour market and better connect with the host society (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2023[41]).

Unregulated occupations do not require a specific degree and employers can decide whether a candidate is suitable for the job. Unregulated occupations (e.g. coder, graphic designer) may not require official recognition to find work, especially amongst private sector employers. For example, in Norway, the “turbo evaluation” allows employers to evaluate job applicants with foreign higher education qualifications in non-regulated professions. Employers have the opportunity to complete an online application form that includes the applicants educational background and CV. This online procedure is completely free of charge and the application is verified within five days. This assessment shows whether that the degree is accredited in the country where it was delivered and determines whether the qualification is equivalent to a Norwegian degree. It is important to note that this evaluation is non-binding and solely intended for the specific job application in question (Norwegian Directorate for Higher Education and Skills, n.d.[42]).

Fast-track initiatives can accelerate the access of highly educated recently-arrived migrants and refugees in jobs and sectors experiencing labour shortages. Fast-track initiatives are widespread across OECD countries and are considered a valuable tool to accelerate the integration of migrants in the labour market and more broadly in society (OECD, 2017[37])For example, in Sweden around 40 different professions that experience labour shortages in the country can benefit from this procedure. These fast-tracks have been developed through a tri-partite discussion between the PES, the social partners and employers’ associations. The first fast-track process was implemented for people who had a diploma to work as chefs, and the second one targeted the healthcare sector, including professions such as doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists. Since 2015 nearly 7 000 people have started a fast track (Akademikerförbundet SSR, 2023[43]).

Other bodies can provide alternative types of recognition for non-regulated occupations that meet standards. Parallel processes such as sector-dispensed licenses, such as lifeguarding, or the recognition of prior learning (RPL) by Bruxelles Formation or VDAB Brussel can also be a tool to help those educated abroad to meet qualification requirements. Through the RPL, applicants get their skills assessed and can either considered suitable for a job or encouraged to take part in a training if their skills are not sufficient to enter the labour market (Meghnagi and Tuccio, 2022[44]).

International agreements that automate recognition between countries and regions may be another tool to mobilise based on OECD practice. Based on predominant foreign nationalities in Actiris, the region or Community bodies may explore accelerating or facilitating mutual recognition for certain key occupations for which academic standards are met in selected countries. For example, Québec, Canada, and France signed an agreement providing automatic mutual recognition over 80 occupations in 2008 (French Consulate in Québec, 2020[45]). In 2022, the United Kingdom and India signed a Memorandum of Understanding for mutual recognition of higher education qualifications (British Council, 2022[46]).


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← 1. The methodology to categorise online job postings into generic and advanced ICT skills requirements draws on Brüning and Mangeol (2020[47]) and OECD (2022[4]). It follows a three-stage process: First, the total monthly count of unique job vacancies is determined for each region. Second, the skill requirements listed in each job posting are utilized to determine whether the job requires “generic” or “advanced” ICT skills. “Generic” ICT skills include skills such as working in word processing software or carrying out basic data manipulation. “Advanced” ICT skills refer to specialised skills in programming, coding, and data analysis. Finally, the total number of job postings that require generic or advanced ICT skills is summed up by region and divided by the total number of regional online job postings calculated in the first step. One caveat applies to the analysis of “generic” ICT skills requirements: In high-skill professions, employers may not always list these basic digital skills when posting vacancies. This may explain the comparably lower share of online job vacancies listing “generic” ICT skills in high-skill labour markets such as London, UK (see Panel C, Figure 5.1).

← 2. It should be noted that language requirements are not always listed in job requirements even if jobs do require the knowledge of a language. For instance, in the Brussels-Capital Region, the knowledge of French is required for most jobs and many employers are unlikely to list French as an explicit requirement.

← 3. For the purposes of the study, durable employment was defined as consecutive employment of at least six months. French-speaking jobseekers of Belgian nationality constituted the analysed sample.

← 4. Advanced language skills are defined as level B2, C1 or C2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

← 5. VDAB Brussel enrolment reimburses transportation as well as childcare costs. VDAB is also introducing a premium for tracks leading to occupations facing shortages (VDAB, 2023[48]).

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