From time to time I have the chance to chat to the waifs and strays that follow our daughters around – a rare chance to get an insight into the views of French youth! Many of them are at the age when the real world is starting to take over from school life…
The problems that French youngsters face when looking for jobs are substantial, and much more difficult than we faced ourselves when we were young, so I have a lot of sympathy with their predicament. The big problem is, of course, the woeful lack of job opportunities for young French people at the moment.
The first option is to work ‘on the black’. As far as I can tell, most young people don’t want to do this (in part because they like to think they are making a start on their 40 years of required pension contributions). But given the options, they prefer to work on the black rather than not work at all. So this is what many do, and frankly I would do exactly the same if I was in the same position rather than sit at home watching TV all day.
Second option is the CDD, an employment contract for a fixed length of time. These are easier to come by than ‘real’ jobs (although still difficult to find), they are legal, and they sometimes bring valuable work experience, but they don’t bring any job security. Because employing people and getting rid of poor employees is so expensive in France* employers prefer these contracts. Unfortunately when the contract finishes they usually either simply renew it for a few more months, or else they let that person leave and employ another person on the same contract.
*In the UK a company has to pay about 12% of an employees salary in national insurance charges, in France it is 42%
Third option, finding a regular full-time paid job, is more or less impossible for those that don’t have a particular talent. I’m sure people from the elite grandes-ecoles and suitable backgrounds stroll into great jobs with no trouble, but the people we speak to don’t seem to know anyone who has actually found one of these elusive real jobs.
But the strange thing is, if I suggest that they should relax the hiring and firing rules in France to make it easier to get a job, no-one agrees with me, despite a great deal of evidence that it is better for an economy to have a more casual approach to hiring and firing.
It might take 5 or 10 years to find a job in France, but the one hope everyone has is that once they have found a real job they can keep it for ever. Contracts and unions will make it impossible to lose the job, almost regardless of what happens. Who wants to spend years looking for a job only to have to start the same process again a couple of years later?
They are mystified how people in other countries, such as the UK, can cope with the constant threat of redundancy or being sacked for poor performance. Suggestions that a company will generally keep and reward employees who work hard, and only get rid of the staff who are making no effort, are implausible they tell me – who wants their job to be on the line because they happen to disagree with the boss…
The one thing I have learned in France: almost everyone wants change, and recognises the need for change, but for other people, not themselves. So those that do have jobs will fight vigorously against any changes that reduce their rights.
So the big question is – where does that leave French youth – and perhaps our own children in a couple of years? Because at the moment things are looking pretty bleak!