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EACEA National Policies Platform


3. Employment & Entrepreneurship

3.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Labour market situation in the country
  2. Main concepts

Labour market situation in the country

Based on statistics from the employment office (Arbeitsamt der DG) and the official statistic portal of the German-speaking Community (Ostbelgien Statistik) the German-speaking Community currently counts 23,134 employees and 6,647 full-time self-employed and freelancers (as of 2021). Together they form the group of the people in work in the German-speaking Community (whereby multi-jobbing is however possible). However, because of the border location between Germany, Luxembourg and the French-speaking part of Belgium commuter flows also play a large role for the German-speaking Community. So the number of people commuting outwards to Germany and Luxembourg alone amounts to almost 9,000, while those commuting inwards come principally from inside Belgium.

As a consequence of the economic crisis the employment situation in the German-speaking Community in 2009 and also 2011 suffered somewhat more than in Wallonia or Flanders. Even though thanks to a significant economic growth in 2015 until 2017, the employment in the German-speaking Community has reached the level of 2008 before the economic crisis again in 2016, although the 2018 employment rate in the German-speaking Community at 67.4% was still lower than the Belgian average of 70,9%.

In 2021, the unemployment rate in the German-speaking Community was 6,1%, making it higher than in Flanders (5,6%), but significantly lower than in Wallonia (12,8%). Compared with the previous year, unemployment in the German-speaking Community has decreased by 6,6%.

Predominantly small and medium-sized enterprises have established themselves in the German-speaking Community. 84% of the private employers each employ fewer than 10 workers and fewer than 1% of the businesses employ more than 100 people.

The primary sector is characterised by a clear reduction in the number of self-employed farmers and has decreased in importance because of this. The number of employees and self-employed in the secondary area (industry and building trades) is constantly subject to fluctuations but is since 2016 above the level before the crisis. Around 28% of people in work are still to be found in these sectors of the economy. The service sector has also become the largest employer in the German-speaking Community and now, after a significant rise in the 90s and a slow down in growth after 2001, covers 70% of total employment.

This development is also accompanied by an increasing proportion of women in work. Since 1990 the number of women in work in the German-speaking Community has risen by around 58% whereas the number of men in work more or less stayed the same. The only moderate development among men is partly also caused by the fall in the number of blue-collar workers (compared with the number of white-collar workers) between 2001 and 2006 as well as in 2009 and 2012-2013. 49% of the dependent jobs in the German-speaking Community are occupied by female employees of whom the majority however (around 70%) are part-time.

Like many other regions of Western Europe the German-speaking Community too is affected by increasing ageing of the working population: more than 36% of the wage earners are older than 50 and among the self-employed the proportion is as high as 54%.

Young people in the labour market

In the last few years the number of young people in the German-speaking Community has significantly increased and the number of young people surging on to the labour market has, unlike the other regions, still slightly increased up to 2012, when 3.638 young people up to the age of 25 were on the labour market. There was a noticeable decrease in 2013 with only 3.263 young people being on the labour market. Since then, the number kept on decreasing, albeit not as fast. In 2018, 3.050 young people are on the labour market of the German-speaking Community. The corresponding employment rate in 2018 was 33,11%. 

The German-speaking Community is seeing a comparably high employment rate of young people, which may not least be caused by the importance of the SME training, particularly for boys.

But the development of the employment rate of the young people is, like in the other regions, declining. In future the upcoming generations will no longer be able to replace those leaving.

Most young people are employed in the building trade, commerce and in the manufacturing trade. The majority of the workers are being trained in the building trade and hospitality industry.

Youth unemployment

The youth unemployment rate in the German-speaking Community is at 8,2% in 2021, which is by far the lowest youth unemployment rate of all the communities in Belgium.

Around 296 young people are unemployed (average 2021). Among them is a high proportion of school leavers, few foreigners and hardly any long-term unemployed.

Young people with few qualifications often have additional obstacles to finding employment.

Main concepts

The dual medium-sized education system

The German-speaking Community, which has been responsible for education for 20 years, has developed an education system that meets its specific requirements. Thus, even in classical crafts practice-oriented French courses are a part of the curriculum. In combination with the well-known strengths of the dual education of the German-speaking partner countries and regions, the German-speaking Community developed a dual-level apprenticeship tailored to its own marginal situation. Here, apprentices and prospective masters in a vocational training center are given general and technical knowledge, while at the same time comprehensive occupational competence is assessed in certified training companies. In addition to providing intensive vocational counseling for young people, this unique training system in Belgium makes a decisive contribution to the fact that the employment rate of young people between 15 and 24 in the German-speaking Community is higher than the national average.

Youth unemployment in the German-speaking Community

In the German-speaking Community, solid basic training is considered the best tool to ensure low youth unemployment. Thus, 94% of graduates of a dual SME education (average 2000 to 2011) are placed directly into work. On average, these young people found employment within 45 days. With more than 800 apprentices (average 2004 to 2011) in over 600 active training companies, their share of the total population in the German-speaking Community is ten times higher than in Wallonia or Flanders. The widespread use of dual training and its high labor market integration rate contributed to the German-speaking Community having the lowest youth unemployment rate in Belgium.

Cross-border education and certification

The actors of the dual medium-sized training of the German-speaking Community - whether the Institute for Training and Further Education of Medium-Sized Businesses (Institut für Aus- und Weiterbildung des Mittelstandes, IAWM) as supervisory authority or the Center for Training and Further Education of Medium-Sized Businesses (Zentrum für Aus- und Weiterbildung des Mittelstandes, ZAWM) as education centers - use cross-border partnerships and European projects for the exchange of experience and knowledge with VET partners such as Chambers of Crafts, Chambers of Industry and Commerce, Vocational Colleges and inter-branch organizations. In addition to European apprenticeship exchanges, joint training offers and cross-border certifications (so-called bi-diplomation) are realized together. The Leonardo da Vinci pilot project "Border Competences" led by the IAWM has developed the essential aspects of vocational training that allow graduates to acquire the necessary skills for a cross-border economic and labor market. The term "Euregio competence" refers in particular to foreign language competence, intercultural competence and information literacy. On the basis of many years of cross-border educational partnerships and a training adapted to the particularities as a border region, the German-speaking Community has been able to implement several model schemes for European vocational training:

  • Since 2007, trainees as automotive mechatronics technicians with only one apprenticeship and final exam have been able to obtain the German and Belgian journeyman's certificate. This gives them the best conditions for employment on both sides of the border. Since 2010, the retailers trained in the German-speaking Community or the Städteregion Aachen can also obtain the certificate of the neighboring region, and from 2013 on, this possibility of bid certification has also been opened to trainees in the hairdressing trade. Further professional areas are to follow.
  • In addition, the ZAWM as an education center and the Aachen Chamber of Skilled Crafts (Handwerkskammer Aachen) offer joint cross-border master classes for butchers and bakers, who take on both culinary and business features of the respective partner region and thus represent a high added value for participants, for cooperating teachers and trade guilds.