Transitions on the labour market

Highly-skilled people do well on the labour market

Work & training
Highly-skilled people do well on the labour market

Figures from the first quarter of 2022 on the labour market transitions show that highly-skilled people are doing well on the labour market: they mostly stay at work (98.3%), find a job easily if they are unemployed for a while and stay inactive less often than low-skilled and medium-skilled people. This is what emerged from new figures of Statbel, the Belgian statistical office. Furthermore, we see that the number of changes on the labour market is returning to pre-Covid levels. The number of unemployed people entering employment or continuing to look for work also seems to be moving back towards pre-Covid levels. The percentage of employed people remaining in work is increasing again. Inactive people are slightly more likely to return to work than before the Covid crisis, but the percentage of inactive people that is still inactive one year later remains very high at 87.3%. Statbel publishes today the transitions on the labour market between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022.

Transition rate labour market

All respondents Unemployed Q1 2022 Employed Q1 2022 Inactive Q1 2022 Total
Unemployed Q1 2021 35.4 35.2 29.4 100.0
Employed Q1 2021 1.3 95.2 3.5 100.0
Inactive Q1 2021 2.8 9.9 87.3 100.0
Total 3.3 57.9 38.8 100.0


To assess the situation of the labour market, it is not only important to know how many people are unemployed, inactive and employed, but also how many people change their status within a given period of time. How many of the unemployed in this quarter were also looking for work a year earlier? How many of them have gone into work? What percentage of working people were also working a year earlier? Questions that can be answered with the Labour Force Survey, because it is a panel where respondents are surveyed several times.

In this press release, we discuss the evolution of the labour market status of people who were employed, unemployed and inactive one year ago (first quarter of 2021) and compare it with their status in the current quarter (first quarter of 2022). We also publish the comparison between the status in the previous quarter and the status in the current quarter. These figures are not discussed in this text, but can be found under 'figures' on the website.


A very high percentage of people who were working a year ago are still working today. 95.2% of working people who were in work in the first quarter of 2021 are also in work in the first quarter of 2022. The tightness of the labour market contributes to this percentage: employers try to keep as many employees on board as possible and employees who lose their jobs can find a new job fairly quickly. Self-employed people also continue to work smoothly. Besides being employed, 1.3% of working people are unemployed a year later and 3.5% are inactive.

If we look at these figures for different groups, we see that the percentage of people who stay in work is high everywhere: for men and women, in the three regions and for people with and without the Belgian nationality. Only for age and level of education there are larger differences. Among 30-74 year olds, 96.4% remain in work, compared to 89.3% among 15-29 year olds. Highly-skilled people (those with at least a higher education diploma) easily remain in employment: of those employed in the first quarter of 2021, 98.3% are still in work a year later. The percentage of low-skilled people who remain in work is lower: 81.9% of low-skilled people who were employed in the first quarter of 2021 still have a job after one year.


Among the unemployed, we see in the first quarter of 2022 slightly fewer people who have made the transition from unemployment to work than in the previous quarters. While in previous quarters around 40% of the unemployed were in work one year later, this has now dropped to 35.2%. 35.4% of the unemployed are still unemployed and looking for a job a year later. 29.4% have become inactive and are therefore no longer looking for a job or not available to start working within two weeks. In absolute numbers: of the 339,000 unemployed, 120,000 are still unemployed a year later, 119,000 are working and 100,000 have become inactive.

We see large regional differences here: of the Flemish unemployed in the first quarter of 2021, 19.2% are still unemployed after one year, in the Brussels-Capital Region this percentage is 51.0% and in the Walloon Region 42.6%. Here, too, the labour market situation of the higher educated is rather positive: 56.4% of the unemployed highly-skilled people are back to work after one year. Among the middle-skilled and low-skilled people, these percentages are 36.5% and 17.1% respectively.


Inactive people are still entering the labour market slightly more often (9.9%) than before the Covid crisis, but the percentage of inactive people that is still inactive one year later remains high: 87.3% of inactive people are still inactive one year later. This way, more than 3,000,000 15-74 year old Belgians are out of work.

We find similar percentages for all groups, only here again the situation seems to be slightly more positive for the highly-skilled. Highly-skilled inactive people remain the least inactive, although after one year 77.0% of them are still inactive. Among the medium-skilled people 85.8% remain inactive, among the low-skilled people 95.0%. Although we might think that inactivity is concentrated among students and pensioners, this is not the case: two out of three of the 25-44 year old inactive people are still inactive one year later. Among the 25-44 year old inactive highly-skilled people, 4 out of 10 remain inactive, among the low-skilled people, this is 8 to 9 out of 10.

Methodological information

The figures presented here are the results of the Labour Force Survey (LFS), a survey harmonised at European level. The definitions regarding employment and unemployment that are used are those of the International Labour Office (ILO) to allow international comparison. We distinguish three ILO statuses on the labour market: employed, unemployed and inactive. The definitions applied are available here:

Please note that temporarily unemployed persons are temporarily absent from work and are counted as employed.

The Labour Force Survey is a continuous survey, which means that the sample is spread evenly over the 52 weeks of the year. The selected respondents answer a questionnaire mainly related to their activity in the course of a given reference week. The respondents participate four times: they participate for 2 consecutive quarters, then don’t for 2 quarters, and then participate again for 2 quarters. This way, we can observe what the labour market status of a given respondent is in a given quarter, and a quarter and/or a year later: e.g. is someone who is unemployed still unemployed in the next quarter and/or year?

So, if one speaks of a particular status in a particular quarter, it is by definition the status in the reference week. If one indicates to work in the reference week of quarter Q and in the reference week of quarter Q+1, they are counted twice as employed. There are, of course, a number of cases that were unemployed in the meantime, for example, but this is beyond the scope of our data.

The quarterly transitions are the sums of weighted observations of respondents who participated in the successive quarters (e.g. 2019Q4-2020Q1, 2020Q1-2020Q2).

The quarter-specific annual transitions are the sums of weighted observations of respondents participating in the same quarter of two consecutive years (e.g. 2019Q1-2020Q1).

The annual transitions are the means of four quarter-specific annual transitions for two successive years (e.g. 2019-2020).

Respondents who did not participate in one of two waves (= interviews) cannot be taken into account in this analysis. Respondents in the longitudinal sample are in both quarters at least 15 years old and at most 74 years old.

The longitudinal sample is calibrated to the estimated distributions of ILO labour market status per age, gender, region, level of education and nationality in the start and end quarters.

The published figures are based on the Labour Force Survey. They are no exact figures but approximations based on the extrapolation of a random sample from the Belgian population. This must be taken into account when interpreting the results. When the unweighted number of people is lower than 30, data should be interpreted with caution.