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Job openings go unfilled despite high numbers of job seekers

VDAB job opportunities - Belga
13:22 03/05/2022

Tens of thousands of job vacancies are piling up despite many more jobseekers on the market. The shortfall gives job hunters an advantage when it comes to negotiating higher wages or better benefits.

The Flemish Service for Employment and Vocational Training (VDAB) has more than 81,000 vacancies with 180,000 job-seekers, VRT reports.

But labour economist Stijn Baert warns that there’s a balance to be struck: if employers can’t fill positions, they will move their companies elsewhere. “Then of course you go from a record number of vacancies to a record number of missed opportunities.”

Among those companies struggling to find employees are Brussels Airport, which currently has 1,200 vacancies. Other sectors in desperate need of workers are railways and schools, the latter of which has been dealing with a shortage for years now

“If you used to talk to an employer and ask what his problems were, you would get 10,” said Baert. “Now you get one: we can't find people.”

The shortage has two causes: a mismatch between the vacancies and the job seekers, and a small pool of workers from which employers must draw. “You have vacancies, and also job seekers, but the two do not find each other,” Baert explained. 

Large number of people not looking for job

One reason the pool of workers is so small is that there are a large number of inactive people: those who do not have a job, but are also not looking for one. Examples of such workers could include those with long-term illnesses, stay-at-home spouses and pensioners between 60 and 65 years old. 

“These are people who, like job-seekers, do not have a job, but unlike job-seekers they are not looking for a job either. They are actually outside the labour market,” said Baert. 

“If we could keep those people in the labour market to a greater extent, or entice them into the labour market, then employers would have a bigger pool to fish from and would be able to fill their vacancies more easily.”

Despite an increasing number of both vacancies and job seekers, these employers and employees aren’t matching up. 

“Jobseekers do not have the right education to be able to fill the vacancies, or they don't have the right experience, or the working conditions they have to work in are not sufficiently attractive,” Baert said. 

The labour economist pointed to the high number of vacancies for domestic cleaners as an example of insufficiently-attractive working conditions: “For a relatively low wage, you have to do work that not everyone likes.”

But it isn’t just low-skill sectors struggling to find staff. The IT sector, for example, is also struggling to fill posts. “All those vacancies indicate that the engine of the economy is running. It also gives workers a bit more negotiating power. In the past, workers had to fight for a vacancy, now you have employers and companies doing a lot of the fighting for those workers.”

Young employees know they are in demand and set their sights high, but Baert warned that too many unfilled positions leads companies to abandon Belgium.  “The danger is that those employers say: 'There's not much point in doing business here, we can't find the people to fill our vacancies and we'll do it elsewhere.' What is the return on investing in companies and giving them a push to create more jobs, if those jobs don't get filled?”

Brussels jobseekers applying for jobs in Flanders

Brussels employment agencies were given the green light to provide jobseekers with opportunities in the Flemish region at the end of 2021.

With the Belgian capital possessing a large potential workforce, it made practical sense to set up a cooperation agreement between Actiris and VDAB.

The number of Brussels residents in employment reached a record number in 2021 with some 479,000 inhabitants active in the labour market. This figure represented an increase of 1.9% compared to the previous year.

Photo: VDAB promoting job opportunities in Brussels periphery (2019) © Belga/Nils Quintelier



Written by Helen Lyons