Labour market information

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Belgium - Région De Bruxelles-Capitale / Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest

Short overview of the labour market


In 2016, the Brussels Capital region was host to 716 554 positions across its territory, which means that the capital is the country’s main employment region. Brussels is very attractive to jobseekers. A large proportion of these jobs are not held by people from Brussels: in 2016, the region had a total 716 554 jobs: 347 450 (48.5%) of these were occupied by commuters (221 959 from Flanders and 125 591 from Wallonia). Conversely, 16.0% of people from Brussels work outside the city (71 239 in all, with 49 211 (69.1%) working in Flanders and 22 029 (30.9%) in Wallonia). The number of workers commuting out of Brussels has increased since 2008 and, having fallen slightly between 2014 and 2015, increased again in 2016. In absolute terms, the number of Brussels residents working in the other two regions rose once again in 2016.

Moreover, the presence of international institutions (European Union, NATO, etc.) and Brussels’ status as capital city (and thus first port of call for international migration), have attracted workers from all corners of Europe, but also from outside the European Union. This has further boosted the cosmopolitan nature of Brussels and it now has a large concentration of foreign nationals. According to Federal Government figures on origin, in 2012, 72.1% of the Brussels population described themselves as foreign nationals 1 (compared with 29.0% in Wallonia and 19.4% in Flanders).

The services sector is clearly the strongest sector in employment in the Brussels region. For example, 90.6% of employment in 2016 was in the tertiary sector, versus 74.2% in Flanders and 78.3% in Wallonia. The employment structure in Brussels is dominated by public administration (14.5%), health and social welfare (10.4%), business (9.3%), education (8.2%), and finance and insurance (7.2%). These five sectors account for 49.6% of paid employment in Brussels. 2 In addition, the presence of international institutions, and more particularly the European Union, brings with it a large number of enterprises that support these institutions. It is estimated that the impact on employment of such international institutions in Brussels accounts for 121 000 jobs (81 000 direct jobs and 40 000 indirect jobs), or 16.7% of total employment in the region. 3

In Brussels, the level of qualifications required is high. More than 50% of jobs are held by highly qualified personnel (higher (non)university level), while the equivalent figure for Belgium as a whole is approximately 38%.

The jobs for which high levels of qualifications are required (university-level or higher education) are overrepresented in the following tertiary sectors: financial intermediaries, real estate, business services, public administration, education, healthcare, social welfare and international organisations.

Paradoxically, like many large city centres, the Brussels region may be one of the wealthiest in Europe (in terms of GDP) but it continues to suffer from a high level of unemployment. The unemployment rate in the Brussels-Capital Region is higher than in the other two regions and higher than the European average. In 2016, the registered unemployment rate was 17.8%, whereas it was 10.2% for Belgium as a whole. 

It should be noted, however, that the rate for young people under the age of 25 has been falling for 50 consecutive months, reaching 20.7% at the end of July 2017 (compared with 33.9% in January 2013).

The overall registered unemployment rate has been falling for 33 months in a row, reaching 16.7% at the end of July 2017 (compared with 20.7% in January 2013).

There is also strain in the Brussels labour market with regard to a number of specific occupations.


1  ‘Foreign nationals’ are defined as people with a foreign nationality, people who were born with a foreign nationality and/or people with a parent who was born with a foreign nationality.

2  Source: Enquête sur les Forces de Travail, 2015 data.

3 The figures on international employment are taken from the 2016 edition of the brochure ‘Brussels-Europe, the figures’.


Text last edited on: 09/2018

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