Located in the centre of Europe, Belgium offers a number of attractive career opportunities for talented graduates. Author: Jemma Smith, Editor
If you're debating a move to Belgium don't be fooled by the country's small size. Often referred to as the 'heart of Europe' the country has a population of approximately 11.5million - including an estimated 220,000 expats, so you'll be in good company.
A federal state, Belgium is made up of three regions: Flemish (in the north), Brussels-Capital Region and Walloon (in the south). The country is multilingual, with no fewer than three official languages. Dutch is spoken in the Flemish community and in the capital city of Brussels, while French is spoken in the Walloon region. German is spoken by small number of the population. English is also widely understood but you will need to learn the language of your particular community in order to get by.
While beer, chocolate and waffles are synonymous with the country you should also know that Belgium is a mecca for culture fans. It boasts historical cities, beautiful architecture, peaceful countryside's, indulgent cuisine and a thriving arts scene.
Jobs in Belgium
The job market in Belgium is competitive and language skills are in high demand. Multilingual foreign workers or those that can speak at least one of the country's official languages, stand more chance of gaining employment.
Service and high-tech industries are typically located in the Flanders region in the north, while coal and steel manufacturing is concentrated in the south.
The majority of Belgians work in the service sector in the banking, law, media, retail, tourism and transport industries. A limited number of jobs are available in industry.
POPULAR GRADUATE JOBS
Processed food and beverages
Transportation equipment and motor vehicle assembly
Belgium has a large expat community and European Union (EU) workers are employed in a variety of jobs. Brussels is home to the headquarters of the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), both big employers of international workers.
Other large Belgian employers include:
Anheuser-Busch InBev (brewing)
Bekaert (steel wires)
Banque Nationale de Belgique (banking)
Colruyt Group (food retail)
D'Ieteren (vehicle distribution)
KBC Bank (banking)
Umicore (materials technology)
In addition, jobs are advertised in newspapers of all three communities (Flemish, French and German).
The majority of available jobs in Belgium are for highly skilled workers in the service sector but many international workers also capitalise on labour shortages. Belgium is in need of:
electricians, plumbers, joiners and plasterers
engineers, technicians and mechanics
nurses and midwives
technical and commercial sales representatives.
How to get a job in Belgium
The application process in Belgium is similar to that in the UK: an application form, or the submission of a two-page CV and cover letter (in the relevant language), plus references. This is followed by an interview.
It's essential that you write your application in the right language, Dutch, French or German - this depends on where you choose to live and work. Some organisations may accept applications written in English but check with them before you apply.
Lots of international organisations operate in Belgium so another possibility is to get a job in one of these organisations in your home country and then transfer to offices in Belgium.
Belgium is a huge tourist attraction, especially cities such as Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent and Ypres. As such, there are a variety of summer and part time jobs available in the tourism and hospitality industries such as hotel, bar and restaurant work.
If you want to give your CV a boost and improve your language skills, as well as demonstrate your ability to work in a multilingual environment, volunteering in Belgium is good idea.
The European Commission (EC) funds a scheme called the European Voluntary Service (EVS), which offers young people aged 17 to 30 the chance to volunteer for up to 12 months in a number of countries, including Belgium.
Opportunities vary from placements concerned with sport and culture to those focused on social care and the environment. Accommodation, travel, food and insurance are all covered by a European grant, and you even receive a personal allowance each month.
Internships are widely available, and like summer jobs or volunteering they are a great addition to your CV.
Graduates can apply for an internship at the EC. The EC's scheme runs twice a year for five months, and each trainee is awarded a generous monthly living allowance. For more details, visit the EC.
AIESEC UK offers a traineeship exchange programmes lasting six weeks to 18 months for students and recent graduates, while IAESTE UK offers summer course-related placements for science, engineering, technology and applied arts students.
EU citizens have the right to:
move to another EU country to work without a work permi
enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantage
stay in the country even after employment has finished.
EU nationals planning to stay in Belgium for less than three months should register with the relevant local authority on your arrival. If you plan to stay for more than three months you'll need to apply for a registration certificate from your local authority.
EU citizens may also have health and social security coverage transferred to their host country, and can apply for permanent residency after living in Belgium for three years.
Citizens of non-EU countries require a visa and/or work permit. Short-term visas are for those staying less than 90 days, while long-term visas are for those staying for more than 90 days. The latter of these requires you to have a work permit, which your prospective employer must usually apply for - often one year in advance. Contact your Belgian embassy for further information.
There are three official languages in Belgium: Dutch (Flemish), French and German.
Dutch is spoken in the Flanders region to the north, by the Flemish Community.
French is the first language for the majority of citizens in Wallonia, which covers most of Belgium south of Brussels. French-speaking citizens are known as the French Community.
German is spoken in the southeast, where the German-speaking community of Belgium resides.
While English is spoken in the country and plenty of Belgian nationals are bi- or multilingual, it's a good idea to have a basic understanding of either Dutch or French before you arrive in the country to help you settle in. You'll be able to take up language lessons once you arrive in Belgium.
How to explain your qualifications to employers
The Bologna Process means that your UK qualifications will be recognised by employers. Those from countries outside of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) should contact NARIC (Flemish Community) or the Ministere de la Federation Wallonie-Bruxelles (French Community) to get your certificates recognised.
For certain professions, you may need your qualifications to be officially recognised before you begin work. To find out whether your professional qualifications will be recognised in Belgium, visit Europa or Enic-Naric.
What it's like to work in Belgium
The average working week is 38 hours in length - approximately eight hours every day.
There are ten public holidays in Belgium, these include:
New Years Day
All Saints Day
Paid annual leave is worked out depending on the number of days you have worked in the previous year.
Despite this, living costs are fairly high - albeit lower than in the UK - and the country has one of the continent's highest income tax rates.
Management culture is traditionally similar to the French-style top-down approach, but more organisations are moving towards a Dutch-like open workplace, with increased delegation and greater democracy in decision-making. Belgians appreciate personal contact, and logic and reasoning, with arguments backed up by facts and figures.
Belgium - National Level
Short overview of the labour market
Situated at the heart of Europe, Belgium is a federal state that is subdivided into communities and regions.
In Belgium, powers relating to employment are shared between the Federal Government on the one hand, and the regions and the German-speaking community on the other.
It is the federal government’s task to create a framework that promotes the optimal development of employment and solidarity, and to ensure that all citizens have equal rights and opportunities. The communities and regions guarantee, above all, optimal conditions for access to and participation in the labour market, and develop (re)integration initiatives geared to their specific situation, ensuring that everyone enjoys equal opportunities.
The population legally registered in Belgium as at 1 January 2018 is 11 376 070 million inhabitants, 57.6% of whom reside in Flanders, 31.9% in Wallonia, 10.5% in the Brussels-Capital Region and less than 1% in the municipalities of the German-speaking community. The population has experienced an annual growth of 53 982 people, or 0.50%. This growth is primarily attributable to net international migration. The population traditionally consists of slightly more women (51% or 5 778 164 people) than men (49% or 5 597 906 people).
Meanwhile, the age distribution continues to illustrate the effect of the ‘ageing of the population’: there are now almost 2.13 million people aged 65 or over, representing 18.7% of the population. The number of young people (<18 years) has also increased, to 2.301 million, but they account for only 20.2% of the population. The ‘working age’ population (aged between 18 and 64) totals 6.944 million (61%).
In Belgium, 68.5% of the population between the ages of 20 and 64 are in work, while 7.1% of the active population are looking for work (figures for 2017). The inactive population is mainly composed of young people (students) and older people ((early) retirees). There are, however, major differences between the regions in Belgium. Flanders has the highest level of employment and the lowest unemployment rate.
The European Union has a higher employment level than Belgium: the proportion of active employees in the EU is 72.2% on average. Nevertheless, the level of unemployment in the EU (7.6%) is slightly higher than in Belgium (7.1%).
The Belgian employment situation may be typically described as resembling the shape of a lemon, with employment being heavily concentrated in the middle age category (25-54), while relatively few young people (who usually continue in education for a long time) and older people (who frequently take early retirement) are in work. Studying longer is a positive development, because it considerably increases the chances of finding employment, but early retirement has become unaffordable for the State and it is currently taking steps to discourage it by raising the ages at which people may retire.
Despite the fact that young people are studying longer, unemployment among young people remains very high in Belgium: 19.3%, which is slightly higher than the EU average (16.8%). It is worth noting that 12.7% of young people aged 15 and over leave education with no qualifications (without a certificate or with only a certificate of primary education). They therefore have much less chance of finding work than young people with secondary or higher qualifications.
Many people in Belgium commute, to work in a different region from that in which they live, or even commute abroad (‘cross-border workers’). Most commuting is from Flanders and Wallonia to the Brussels-Capital Region, where there are more jobs than members of the active population.
Most employment in Belgium is in services. There are not very many major industrial companies in Belgium; one such company though is the steel giant Arcelor Mittal, which is based mainly in Wallonia; the car manufacturer Volvo Cars is based in Ghent in Flanders. The top 10 places are all occupied by service industries in the transport and communication, finance and distribution/retail sectors. The list includes Bpost, the bank BNP Paribas Fortis, ING Belgium and KBC Bank, HR Rail, Colruyt Group, Proximus, the Delhaize Group, Carrefour Belgium.
The principal sector with the highest number of workers in Belgium is the tertiary sector (services), which accounts for 68.8% of its GDP (gross domestic product). Commerce, transport and HoReCa (hotels, restaurants and catering) make up the bulk of this sector. Next come public administration, education and business services with 19%.