Executive summary

The Brussels-Capital Region attracts talent from across Belgium, Europe and the world. Between 2001 and 2021, the population of the Brussels-Capital Region grew by 27%, compared to 12% in Belgium as a whole. The region’s population is best characterised as young, diverse and urban. In 2022, more than half of the local population aged 15 to 64 was foreign-born, reflecting its attractiveness to EU and non-EU migrants alike. Among the local resident population, 87% were below the age of 65 and thus considered young or of working age, in contrast to the OECD average of 81%.

More than half of those employed in the Brussels-Capital Region live in the Flemish and the Walloon Regions. While the surface area of the Brussels-Capital Region covers only 162 square kilometres with a local resident population of approximately 1.2 million, the region’s functional urban area – or commuting zone – extends well into parts of the Flemish and the Walloon Region. The commuting zone is home to a population of more than 3.3 million and covers over 4 800 square kilometres. In 2021, among 796 000 employed workers in the Brussels-Capital Region, 393 000 were residents, while 403 000 commuted from the Flemish and the Walloon Region. Reversely, 53 000 Bruxellois commuted to the Flemish Region and 23 000 commuted to the Walloon Region.

Not all of the region’s talent participates in the labour market. The employment rate among the population aged 15 to 64 years, stood at 60% in 2022 and remained below the OECD average of 69% and significantly below comparable OECD metropolitan areas. For instance, employment rates were 82% in Amsterdam, 78% in Stockholm, and 76% in Berlin. For the Brussels-Capital Region’s employment rate to catch up with the OECD average employment rate, nearly 80 000 of the resident working-age population would have to find work. The unemployment rate of 12.5% was also above the OECD average of 6.1%. Youth unemployment at 30.8%, despite the decline in recent years, also remained significantly above the OECD average of 12.8%.

Employment is particularly low for disadvantaged groups. People with low levels of education and those born outside the European Union (EU-27) make up a large proportion of individuals who are outside of the labour force (i.e. neither employed nor actively seeking work) or unemployed, with employment rates of 32% and 52% among the population aged 15 to 64 years in 2022 respectively. Worklessness is especially high for women born in non-EU-27 countries, among which only 41% were employed in 2022. Equipping workless individuals with adequate skills and removing the multiple, often compounded, labour market barriers they face will be important to achieve higher employment rates. The region has taken action through policies to foster job creation and increase labour supply, and initiatives from OECD peers provide the potential to go further.

This report draws on good employment and skills policy practices from across the OECD that could be implemented in the Brussels-Capital Region. The report first provides an in-depth overview of the labour market situation, before covering three policy areas where the region can act to leverage strengths and overcome challenges: labour market governance, labour market programmes and skills policies.

The landscape of employment and training institutions is unique and very complex in the region. Actiris, the public employment service (PES) of the region, is responsible for managing jobseekers and operating labour market programmes. Meanwhile, Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel (Vlaamse Dienst voor Arbeidsbemiddeling en Beroepsopleiding Brussel) run vocational and labour market training in French and Dutch respectively. The municipal level implements social policies and provides labour market services to claimants. The National Employment Office (ONEM) administers unemployment and labour-related benefits.

Agreements between Actiris, training bodies and local actors help coordinate services, but pathways through job counselling and training are often separated. In other OECD countries with decentralised responsibilities for ALMPs, subnational employment services usually manage both jobseeker placement and training, while the national government sets policy orientation and administers unemployment benefits.

Municipal (communes) CPAS (Centres publics d’action sociale), responsible for the social and labour market integration of those claiming social assistance, face a capacity challenge. As the number of people claiming minimum income (Revenu d’intégration sociale – RIS) has risen quickly – from 2.8% of the region’s population in 2015 to 3.6% in 2022 – CPAS are struggling to provide quality services to all. At the local level, social economy-based services, such as Missions locales, are another asset for social inclusion. The very high number of different social economy actors involved in social and labour market activation, however, is a challenge calling for greater collaboration and resource pooling.

A range of vocational training and education options are available in the region, though the system may be able to increase enrolment, completion and placement. The digital and green transitions have changed the skills required to succeed in the region’s labour market. However, the share of adults who participate in continuous education or training remains low compared to other OECD metropolitan areas. A host of education and training opportunities are offered by Bruxelles Formation, VDAB Brussel and a range of adult education institutions, though barriers exist to take-up of training. Challenges include high levels of dropout from certain tracks, unequal training allowance options for learners in different courses and weak recognition of certain training certificates.

To address these challenges, the government of the Brussels-Capital Region, the language Communities and municipalities (communes) could build on the following policy recommendations:

Simplify the paths of jobseekers through labour market services

  • Create a single process for jobseekers through employment and vocational training services: Simplify the institutional arrangements between Actiris, Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel. This could result in a unique registration process for all jobseekers and a streamlined referral to all labour market programmes – including training – through Actiris.

  • Deliver greater labour market counselling for people receiving minimum income: Increase the role of Actiris to assist those receiving minimum income (Revenu d’intégration sociale – RIS – ou équivalent) in their search for work. Alternatively, raise the financial and staff capacity of CPAS to deliver labour market counselling.

  • Clarify the roles of social economy organisations delivering labour market services in a move towards integrated local services in Maisons de l’emploi: Clarify how the support offered by ALE (Agences locales pour l’emploi), Missions locales/Lokale Werkwinkels, Organismes d’insertion socioprofessionnelle (OISP)/Socioprofessionele Inschakeling (SPI) and social enterprises for labour market integration (entreprises sociales d’insertion) connect and complement each other. Maisons de l’Emploi may be able to play a stronger role as a “one-stop shop” housing social economy organisations, along with Actiris and CPAS.

Increase attention to geographic mobility, migration and job quality in labour market services

  • Strengthen the activation stance of Actiris and encourage jobseekers to take up job offers within commuting distance in other Belgian regions: The Flemish and Walloon Regions offer strong prospects for jobseekers and economically inactive people to secure jobs corresponding to their skill level. Actiris may adopt an activation stance which more strongly encourages jobseekers to take up quality job opportunities in neighbouring regions within realistic commuting distance. As it has done with the Flemish Region, the region could obtain all vacancies from the PES in the Walloon Region, Le Forem. Ideally, jobseekers should have ready access to vacancies for all of Belgium.

  • Tailor local labour market policies to the realities of individuals with a migration background and multiple disadvantages to work: Initiatives that could be considered to promote the labour market integration of people with a migration background include investment in vocation-specific language training, efforts to diversify the public sector and anti-discrimination programmes that build on the existing Actiris offer of Diversity Plans for employers and services that target women with a non-EU migration background. For jobseekers with children, existing programmes to provide childcare services, such as Actiris’ Maison d’Enfants and coordinated childcare structures, may serve as the basis for deeper collaboration with family services.

  • Increase labour market programme evaluation and focus on job quality: Evaluate the labour market outcomes of employment incentive programmes such as activa.brussels, activa.brussels aptitude réduite, CPAS contracts (emplois d’insertion/Article 60) and Stage First. Pair incentives more strongly with training. Encourage the rollout of “territories with zero long-term unemployment” (Territoires zéro chômeur de longue durée) to those for whom programmes have not succeeded. Implement the job quality monitor and consider its use for durable job placements.

Raise the attractiveness and impact of vocational education and training

  • Gather more skills information from employers and increase engagement with sectoral social partners: A local survey could collect regular comprehensive data and information on skills challenges and priorities faced by employers and unions both in the French and Dutch-speaking job market. This could be used to support vocational tracks.

  • Collaborate with employers to evaluate job vacancy skill requirements more closely: To increase job market matching efficiency, the region could approach employers and support them in their efforts to evaluate job vacancies for excessive skills requirements, particularly regarding language requirements.

  • Strengthen the attractiveness of vocational tracks: The region could support the recognition of vocational training certificates provided by Bruxelles Formation and VDAB Brussel by informing employers more specifically on the skills these certificates convey. Training allowance provided for enrolment in vocational education (enseignement de promotion sociale – EPS) may be increased to match that of vocational training (Bruxelles Formation). There is also potential for a stronger relationship between employment services and the dual learning (alternance) system to foster higher take-up.

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