The tight labour market: 5 recommendations on how to deal with it

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Smart recruitment fundamentally determines the future of the company.
However, "recruitment & selection" rarely receives the important role it deserves in operational business management. Given its strategic importance, it's worth taking the time to critically examine your process, discuss it with internal stakeholders, and make clear agreements.

The employment rate in Belgium stands at 72.2%*, the highest point ever.

Surprisingly, with this historically strong figure, we are only in the 22nd place within the group of 27 EU countries. There are only five countries that are doing worse than us, and that is an appalling observation. Although the Flemish figure is better (76.5%), here too we just fall on the EU average, and we are far removed from the Netherlands which, with an employment rate of 83.2%, is in a strong 4th place.

It cannot be due to our unemployment figures. These are sharply defined: 5.6% and only 3.7% if you look only at the group aged 25 to 64.

Can we improve that figure? Not really. 2 to 3% seems to be the minimum you cannot go under, due to so-called frictional unemployment (the period between two jobs in which you are not active).

If we have too low an employment rate and low unemployment, where is the unused reservoir of potential?

There is a large group of people below the waterline, the so-called "inactives" (not working and not looking for work) that nationally accounts for 1.3 to 1.4 million people. A substantial percentage of this group is represented by long-term disabled persons. The potential number of people that could be activated from this group has been a topic of considerable debate among labor market experts recently. What we are however certain of, is that there is a huge shortage of candidates for vacancies in our companies. And this becomes more pressing each year: not only is the group of disabled persons continuing to grow, in the next five years, 13% of the working population will also retire. Knowing that for every 100 people who leave the labour market due to retirement, there will only be 81 new workers coming in, the future does not look too bright in this respect.

This has of course major implications for every company looking for suitable profiles.

Smart recruitment fundamentally determines the future of the company.

The agenda item rightly stands high on the priority list of many Boards of Directors. They observe that recruitment & selection too often turns out to be a bottleneck for both the growth and continuity of the organisation.

However, "recruitment & selection" in operational business management rarely gets the important role it deserves.

Given the strategic importance of filling vacancies, we often find a great opportunity for companies to enhance their onboarding strategies recruitment procedures. A well-defined plan for processing candidates once they enter the company's ecosystem is instrumental in ensuring successful placements.

Clear agreements about response speed, which information to be provided, the number of interview rounds, and interviewing topics that take into account the candidate’s aspirations and which interview round they are in.

It absolutely does pay to critically review your process, discuss it with internal stakeholders and make clear agreements.

You want to get started? Let me propose five key recommendations to enhance your company’s recruitment strategy.

1. Select your recruiter with care.

Whether you work with an internal recruiter or an external specialist: do not be satisfied too quickly. Ensure they understand the labour market of today, are fit to work as an ambassador for your company, and able to communicate credibly with all audiences that could fill the position.

2. Engage All Relevant Employees:

Involve all employees who play a role in the candidate journey of the recruitment project. As befits a strategic project: make clear agreements about what is expected from each, who provides what information, and who will question which elements. All employees, including the person at the reception who receives the candidates.

3. Ensure congruent communication during the process.

A candidate who receives conflicting information in different interviews will not exactly become more enthusiastic as the selection process progresses.

4. Prioritise the Candidate:

Adopt a candidate-centric approach by actively listening and fulfilling promises that are made, which helps build trust and engagement.

5. Ensure a flawless candidate journey.

Visualise the path your candidates take during the selection process and be (credits to Steven van Belleghem for coining the concept) a relentless “friction-hunter”. You may think, "That's not necessary, the job isn't frictionless either, if the candidate would already be bothered about this during the recruitment process, then they don't need to come at all."

Well, you might be wrong. A study by BCG shows that, if a candidate has a disappointing candidate experience, they refuse the job in 52% of cases, even if a fantastic proposal is made. So, when you offer a candidate a job offer, you would thus lose your candidate in more than half of the cases, solely by sticking to a non-optimized candidate journey.

Eager to dive deeper and spar on this subject with HR colleagues from other companies? We will soon be holding a labour market session on this topic. If you would like to participate, you can already put yourself on the invitation list by sending an email to

*75.4% if you take the age category 25-64 years instead of 20-64 years (the category you find in the Statbel figures)


  1. Statbel. (2023). Werkgelegenheidsgraad stijgt naar 72,2% in het derde kwartaal van 2023.
  2. Statbel. (2023). Maandelijkse cijfers over de arbeidsmarkt - december 2023.
  3. Federgon. (2022). Uitvallen, opstaan en opnieuw aan de slag gaan: concrete aanbevelingen voor de re-integratie van (langdurig) arbeidsongeschikten. [Details over waar het paper te vinden is].
  4. De Tijd. (18 januari 2024). Stevent Vlaanderen af op volledige tewerkstelling? Ja, als je 1,3 miljoen inactieven negeert.
  5. Stories @ UGent @ Work. (2023). De vlaamse en belgische arbeidsmarkt in europees perspectief: 9 opvallende cijfers. In Stories @ UGent @ Work (Nr. 10, 19 mei).
  6. Stories @ UGent @ Work. (2024). Voer voor kandidaat-parlementsleden: wie straks arbeidsmarktbeleid vormgeeft, moet deze tien studies kennen. In Stories @ UGent @ Work (Nr. 15, 20 februari).
  7. Federgon. (Paper uitgevoerd door Idea Consult 2022). Uitvallen, opstaan en opnieuw aan de slag gaan: concrete aanbevelingen voor de re-integratie van (langdurig) arbeidsongeschikten.
  8. Denys, J. (2023, 27 december). Full employment.
  9. Baier, J., Kovacs-Ondrejkovic, O., Antebi, P., Dvicic, B., Castro, C. M., Mala, K., Beauchene, V., Barth, H., & Jajoria, N. (2023). What job seekers wish employers knew. BCG + The Network.
Authored by Birgit De Smedt - 27 Feb 2024

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