The doors are opening for job-seeking expats in Belgium, where the job vacancy rate is rising and the unemployment rate is dropping—and where talent is still in high demand.
In February 2017, the unemployment rate in Belgium dropped to 7 percent, a full percentage point below the EU average and a drop of 1.2 percentage points from February 2016. Though more people are finding jobs in Belgium, employers continue to experience difficulty filling vacancies—and there are plenty of them. Belgium has the second-highest job vacancy rate in the EU at 2.9 percent, and showed the largest year-over-year increase, tied only with Croatia at 0.7 percentage points.
The labour market in Belgium is shifting in a positive direction, and Belgian residents—specifically expats—are feeling positive, too. In a recent study, 82 percent of the surveyed young professionals said they had been able to advance their careers as a result of moving to Belgium.
Even with all that positive growth, a survey of over 100 Belgian companies showed that 83 percent of employers have faced significant challenges in finding suitable candidates for the ever-increasing number of job vacancies.
Expatica explains where the Belgian job market is headed, and how expats can follow.
Challenges of the Belgium job market
Nearly half of those employers noted that the availability of suitable local candidates was low—and over a quarter stated that they’ve made use of international transfers to fill positions. And coupled with the fact that only 39 percent of the surveyed companies rated the quality of local candidates as above average, there is plenty of opportunity for internationals seeking jobs in Belgium to fill one of those sought-after, but hard-to-fill positions.
The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) forecasted that from 2015–2025, around 30 percent of job opportunities in Belgium will be for professionals in the science, engineering healthcare, business and education fields. These jobs require high levels of education, qualifications or certifications, as well as specific skills.
One of the most common recruitment challenges noted by the surveyed employers was that candidates lacked the right hard skills, such as language knowledge or technical proficiency, for the positions. In Belgium, especially in Brussels, it is often a requirement that candidates speak at least three languages—Dutch, French and English—but speaking more than that is even more desirable.
“[Brussels] is… a very competitive market.” “This is because there are a lot of young expats who have an incredibly high level of education. They speak many languages, and usually have a very good professional background. And if you are looking for a permanent job, employers look for three to five years of relevant experience for a junior position.”
Recruiters have also noted that there is simply a smaller candidate pool—international job-seekers may take advantage of the industries claiming there are too few candidates, whether or not that requires additional training. Salary expectations were also noted as too high; highly-qualified, knowledgeable candidates have seen the shortage, and can often take advantage of the competition within the industries.
Growing job industries across Belgium
Finance jobs in Belgium have seen a particular boom, even though a number of agencies will face closure in 2017 according to the Robert Walters Salary Survey. Positions for auditors, risk managers and compliance officers are in high demand and, as the financial sector has been a leader in digitisation efforts (bringing services and in-house procedures to digital platforms), positions for IT and digital specialists have risen. Belgian banks Belfius, KBC and BNP Paribas Fortis all launched mobile payment platforms—requiring, of course, the talent to create them.
Clerical support jobs (16 percent) follow as the job occupation with the most vacancies as forecasted by Cedefop. In the past year, in fact, employers have been busy hiring new workers for business support purposes as a result of expanded, often global, activity. Assistants, marketers, customer service agents and logistical workers are all in demand—especially if they speak the three almost-mandatory languages.
Technicians, associate professionals and elementary occupations tied at 14 percent; just 9 percent of the forecast job vacancies are managerial positions.
Job sectors by region in Belgium
The Brussels Capital Region has long led the charge for jobs in Belgium, and it has not changed; the region saw the highest local employment growth from 2004–2014, trailed by Luxembourg. Between 2008 and 2013 in the Brussels Capital region, cleaning and landscaping showed the most growth in the number of employees at 158 percent; the real estate sector was second, but only grew by 53 percent. The food industry, international organisations such as the EU and NATO, technical and scientific services all showed growth over 10 percent. The jobs in Brussels that decreased the most were in the manufacturing industry.
The VDAB, Flanders’ public employment service, reported its top three sectors for the period of March 2016–February 2017: business services, wholesale and retail, and social services. The job industries that saw the most growth in terms of acquired positions were in the transport, post and logistics; textiles and clothing; manufacturing; and IT, media and telecom sectors.
In Wallonia as of January 2017, industrial manufacturing led with the most job opportunities; the construction, public administration, energy/water production, and financial services industries, however, have shown the strongest growth.
Finding a job in Belgium can take some time, especially for expats, but looking to satisfy recruiters’ biggest pain points—lack of hard skills in the current talent pool, for example—or entering an industry that is experiencing a shortage can help secure employment in Belgium.