Thu, Dec 06, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Young and educated in France find long-term employment elusive

There is growing concern in Western Europe that the ‘floating generation’ will become the ‘lost generation’ as they move from one short-term job to another, unable to find permanent work and with significant numbers having given up looking

By Steven Erlanger  /  NY Times News Service, LILLE, France

Illustration: Mountain People

Justine Forriez wakes up early to go onto the computer to look for a job. She calls university friends and contacts; she goes to the unemployment office every week — though mostly for the companionship — and has taken a course in job hunting. She has met with 10 different recruiters since May and sent out 200 resumes.

Forriez is not poor or disadvantaged and she holds a master’s degree in health administration. However, after a two-year apprenticeship, she is living on state aid and working at off-the-books jobs like babysitting and bar tending. She cares for a dog for US$6.50 a day. She paints watercolors in her spare time to keep herself from going crazy.

“I don’t feel at ease when I’m home,” she said. “You find yourself with no work, no project.”

With the extra US$45 for dog sitting, she said, “I can go to the grocery store.”

Forriez, 23, is part of a growing problem in France and other low-growth countries of Europe — the young and educated unemployed, who go from one internship to another, one short-term contract to another, but who cannot find a permanent job that gets them on the path to the taxpaying, property-owning French ideal that seemed the norm for decades.

This is a “floating generation,” in a situation made worse by the euro crisis, and its plight is widely seen as a failure of the system: An elitist educational tradition that does not integrate graduates into the workforce; a rigid labor market that is hard to enter; and a tax system that makes it expensive for companies to hire full-time employees and both difficult and expensive to lay them off.

The result, analysts and officials agree, is a new and growing sector of educated unemployed, whose lives are delayed and whose inability to find good jobs damages tax receipts, pension programs and the property market. There are no separate figures kept for them, but when added to the large number of unemployed young people who have little education or training, there is a growing sense that France and other countries in Western Europe risk losing a generation, further damaging prospects for sustainable economic growth.

Louise Charlet, 25, has a master’s degree in management. She worked as an apprentice at the Kiabi clothing company for more than two years, but was not given a permanent job; she’s also worked for three months at a hotel. She prowls the Internet for job offers, goes to the unemployment office and lives with her unemployed boyfriend in a neat, tiny apartment.

“You see,” she said, pointing to the computer, “there’s only one job offer today, and it’s a temporary contract.”

The crisis makes companies doubly reluctant to hire, she said.

“In our parents’ generation, you had a job for life; now we constantly have to change jobs, change companies, change regions,” she said.

Yasmine Askri, 26, majored in human resources and after a year of unemployment, she got a business school degree. She was promised a fixed contract after an internship, but it never came. She left the Lille area for Paris to find a job and spent another year unemployed, finally finding an interim job for 18 months at GDF Suez. However, that contract ended in June. Again unemployed, she has sent out nearly 400 resumes, she said, but has had only three interviews.

“It’s a disaster for everyone,” said Jean Pisani-Ferry, who runs the economic research center Bruegel in Brussels. “They can’t get credit and they’re treated awfully by employers. And then there are all those young people in jobs that don’t match their skills.”

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