In Belgium, all regional and community public employment services immediately gave Ukrainian refugees access to all their services, most of which are now adapted to newcomers and/or migrants. In addition, efforts were made to direct Ukrainian refugees to these services; in Brussels, for instance, Actiris set up a Ukrainian counter and organised information sessions in Ukrainian.
Young educated women
From February 2022 to March 2023, more than 5 000 Ukrainian refugees registered in Actiris (Brussels), Le Forem (Wallonia) and the Arbeitsamt der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft Belgiens (ADG, employment service of the German-speaking Community). In February 2023, their integration rate in the labour market varied between 13.8% and 17%:
- Actiris registered 2 601 persons, of which 13.8% found a job;
- ADG registered 186 persons, of which 16% found a job;
- Le Forem registered 2 378 persons, of which 17% found a job.
The profile of the registered jobseekers was very distinctive, most of them being young, educated, and female:
- approximately 75% are women;
- almost 70% are between 25 and 49 years old;
- 60% are highly skilled;
- 99% have a degree without an equivalent in Belgium.
The sectors they primarily entered are the interim sector, hospitality business, wholesale and retail, administration and cleaning.
These figures only consider the persons who benefited from the PES offer and do not reflect the total number of Ukrainian refugees that may have found a job in Wallonia and Brussels. Further, finding a job may not be the first priority of refugees when arriving in a new country.
Language is key
In addition to the degree equivalence issue, a major obstacle in job search is the language. Almost none of the Ukrainian refugees speak French or German. Both regions, which already had a broad offer in language training, developed targeted initiatives for Ukrainian refugees.
In Wallonia, Le Forem developed a specific offer for ‘French as a foreign language’ courses, which focus on the key professional skills, aiming to supplement the usual language training programmes provided by other operators such as the CIPS (Centres d’Insertion socioprofessionnelle, socio-professional integration operators dealing with people needing significant support) or by the specialised organisation Lire et écrire (Reading and Writing, operator dealing with literacy).
In Brussels, Actiris distributed language vouchers for free language courses to 769 Ukrainian refugees. Some 82.2% of the training taken up by Ukrainians is French language courses. The public vocational training institute Bruxelles Formation organised French for beginners training sessions Les essentiels exclusively for these newcomers: 165 persons attended the programme.
These early measures addressed an emergency situation, but the stalemate in the Ukrainian conflict now raises a new challenge: organising the long-term integration of these refugees.