LAB meeting, France
The Local Area Board (LAB) brought together researchers from in Grenoble Ecole de Management with representatives of employers, schools and a specialist research institute in order to discuss the particular challenges facing young people in France and the links with the programme of work for the STYLE project. There were a number of key themes that emerged on the day including the importance of qualifications, the impact of the crisis and the role of internships in bridging the gap from education to employment.
The strong and continued focus on formal qualifications in France was identified as a particularly important challenge facing young people. This continued focus was all the more surprising since some recent work had pointed to the weak link between initial education and final occupations but it was recognised that qualifications acted as a shortcut for recruiters wishing to select in a period of over supply on the labour market. Furthermore there are norms within organisations and occupations that reinforced these qualification requirements. The barriers for young people who do not obtain any qualifications for any (certain) occupations are particularly acute in France and a challenge for policy makers.
The second major theme was the impact of structural change on the labour market, and in particular the crisis, for the opportunities for young people. As elsewhere the relocation of less-skilled blue-collar jobs had had an impact upon the available opportunities for young people seeking employment. However, the crisis had exacerbated the problems, both raising and prolonging spells of unemployment after graduation. Among those LAB members working directly with young people there was an increasing feeling of lost hope among those who had spent a long time without employment.
The link between education and employment has been a perennial problem in France and one which has led many to look over the boarder to the apparently smooth-working the German apprenticeship system. An integrated system of apprenticeships has never been fully established in France and instead young people gain much of their work experience via combining work and study through stages, internships and alternating weeks in schools and employing organisations. While this system provides young people with all-important work experience the expansion of internships (stages) can also be a source of continued precariousness and exploitation since income is low and security weak.
These themes were picked up in the programme of work for the STYLE project and the ambitions of the Grenoble Ecole de Management researchers for the project outcomes.
Main issues of debate
The importance of the “Diplome” in France
One key theme that was present in much of the discussion among the Local Area Board members was the recognition of the importance of the right diploma and at the right school in France. This focus on qualification impacted upon the behaviour of students in their choice of educational institution, the behaviour of job seekers in the preparation and approach to job search and the behaviour of employers in recruiting and selecting candidates. The group considered the timing of when young people were encouraged to make educational and thus career decisions. Overall the group felt that choices in France were generally considered to be made rather “late” compared to other countries. Within the college system there is no distinction in education path until the age of 14/15, i.e. later than in Germany for instance. Nevertheless this focus on general education reinforces a need to have a baccalaureate to gain a foothold on the labour market.
The flip-side of this focus on qualifications was the difficulties faced by those young people who do not get the right qualification or even the basic minimum qualification. Employers still place a heavy emphasis on having a qualification even if after a few years in work many young people find themselves in occupations that are unconnected with their actual qualification. The extent of this process of “adequation” was rather weak in the end in spite of the strong focus on qualification to enter particular occupations.
At the top of the social pyramid, the idea of “co-optation” remains important. For example within engineering firms there is a sort of “filiere” from education to professional insertion which people have followed for many years. This means that many people have similar profiles. The gendered aspects of these trajectories was also discussed and compared with those seeking careers in more female-dominated areas, for example “santé sociale”.
Young people without any qualifications
Several members of the Local Area Board worked closely with projects and initiatives to address the challenges faced by those without any qualifications or the right qualifications. These included the 100 Chance project and the “Ecole de Dieuxieme Chance” network of schools. The group recognised that in France not obtaining the “minimum” qualification to participate on the labour market – the baccalaureate – was seen as a failure. However, this was not necessarily the case in other countries and while not having qualifications was a challenge elsewhere it was not such a serious impediment as in France.
The group also discussed the interactions between various actors on the labour market working with young people and how these were shaped by the “mission locale” and “pole Emploi” who help define the priorities and strategy for the local labour market.
The LAB also recognised that it was important for students to have a ‘project’ if they were to succeed if they have not followed the typical trajectory and gained the typical qualifications. Even if they do not have any specialisation, it is important that young people dynamic and not to act passively – this is difficult in the face of the knock-backs for young people during the crisis. Furthermore sex segregation was possibly even stronger for young people trying to take advantage of a second chance to get on the labour market.
Some young people experienced multiple levels of challenges and it can be very difficult to keep on track. One example discussed was a young man who was illiterate but found a work in a hotel but after 3 months the hotel broke his contract since his working time did not fit with his demands as a single-dad and he often missed his shifts. Young people like this require an accompaniment even when they have found a job. A similar case was shared of a young man undergoing treatment for drug rehabilitation and his inability to operate certain types of machines due to the risks to others.
Crisis, Structural Changes and Youth in France
In discussing the context of the crisis the members of the Local Area Board also discussed more structural changes on the labour market. There was recognition that there are some elements that make some countries more effective at helping people to find a job and these countries have ridden the crisis – and young people themselves – in a smoother manner. The role of the structure of the economy in understanding the performance of the country, compared to Germany for example. The structure of the employment in France has changed due to two main aspects in the last two to three decades. Firstly, the country has become a country service-centred rather than production-centred and this has changed the range of less-skilled jobs on offer. Secondly there have been policies aimed at boosting the proportion of young people with the baccalaureate raising expectations and emphasising a minimum level.
While technological changes offered new opportunities for the more qualified, technology also means that many jobs had changed or disappeared. The role of employer strategy was discussed in relation to a desire to remain in France on the one hand but a strategic imperative to move production into new markets in order to be present in fast-expanded sectors but also to take advantage of labour costs in labour intensive production activities.
Nevertheless the impact of the crisis could not be ignored and there has been a sharp rise in the rate of unemployment for young people after entering the labour market. LAB members pointed out the importance of looking at different groups between the ages of 15 -25 and essentially trying to understand what the transitions are for these groups after leaving the education system. For example, three years after schooling, they found 22% of the population were still unemployed after the crisis. Prior to the crisis, that number was at 14%. CEREQ studies have shown that there is an increasing importance given to education in France and employers were searching for individuals with a certain formal education and valid qualifications even more than they did before the crisis. The study shows the growing gap between the NEETS and the remainder of the job market since the crisis.
The group briefly considered the extent to which youth transition to adulthood was being extended as the period to find a job and a permanent job was delayed – with impacts on other aspects of the transition to adulthood.
The group went on to discuss the extent to which the crisis had reinforced aspects of the French institutional “system” that might make it difficult for young people to enter work or offered an opportunity for new arrangements and innovations. At least for the important emphasis on qualifications, the group felt that employers were able to sort the oversupply of applications even more quickly based on qualifications. Furthermore young people would choose educational investments, if they could, to avoid the difficulties on the weak labour market.
Internships, “Alternance” and Work experience
The link between the educational system and the labour market was discussed widely and also in a more focused manner around the role of various initiatives and structures aimed at giving young people work experience. This has been a perennial problem in France and one which has led many to look over the boarder to the German apprenticeship system. However an integrated system of apprenticeships has never been fully established in France. Thus young people gain much of their work experience via combining work and study through stages, internships and ‘alternance’ (alternating periods in schools and employing organisations).
The members of the board recognised that internships and stages were vital to give young people acquisition of experience and this worked for students in the grande ecoles system as well as those with no qualifications in systems organised by the “Ecole de la Deuxieme Chance”. Such systems also allow employees or job seekers to opt for training that is paid for and linked to opportunities in the future.
The development of a transitional system nonetheless raised some questions. First, while the school-to-work devices such as apprenticeship or internship were developed to boost the employability of low-skilled youngsters with a “limited” labour market power, it is mainly for highly skilled and highly-employable young people who use from these devices. The development of internships in France thus had a limited impact on the less-qualified youngsters.
Additionally, although the system does provide young people with work experience it can also be a source of continued precariousness and exploitation since income is low and security weak. The new law in France was discussed and regarded by some as unworkable and a typical French solution that was not possible to monitor or implement. Nevertheless key actors were reflecting on the system and how to avoid negative consequences — there was a recognition that a system in which there are too many interns “kills” the internship model as companies look at it as a way to get cheap labour. Some companies have been looking at understanding the effects of an internship — most importantly what do young people do in the internships and how do they use they experience to advance their careers.
Grenoble Team Research Plans
The members of the research team outlined the main avenues of research for the STYLE project and also how these fit with the overall framework of the European collaboration. For work package 4 the team discussed the French regulatory context and the proposed three areas illustrate both the challenges faced by different groups of young people but also the possibilities (and limitations) of policy learning. These examples underlined the positive or negative characteristic of the school to work transition in France.
At one level the study of the “Ecole de La Dieuxieme Chance” (E2C) provides an example of a European-based innovation aimed at those with no qualifications and weak chances of insertion on the labour market. At the other extreme access to the Grandes Ecoles for young people with more limited financial resources illustrates the challenges at the top end of the elite educational spectrum: symptomatic of France, it is an example, marginal but part of the French mentality. Finally the study of internships and the impact of the new laws around the “stage” was recognised as interesting for young people and highlighted the tension between gaining experience but if enterprises use them as a tool for cheap labour this become an organised precariousness. The situation of young people on stages was contrasted with the more formalised alternating system of school and work.
For Work Package 10 the team presented the initial results of the mapping of “flexicurity” performance and members of the LAB discussed potential indicators that were pertinent for France and the relevance of the concept of “flexicurity” more generally. One particularly interesting point was how to measure the informal economy for young people and the extent to which the crisis and “flexicurity” measures pushed people outside the formal labour market.
Grenoble Ecole de Management
16 March 2015
Insertion Professionnelle, Schneider Electric
Ecole de Deuxieime Chance
Maryse DUMAS (unable to attend)
Grenoble Ecole de Management (invited)
Sylviane Chabli (unable to attend)
Grenoble Ecole de Management (research team)