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

The labor market, he said, is “deeply dysfunctional.”

Throughout the EU, unemployment among people aged 15 to 24 is soaring — 22 percent in France, 36 percent in Italy, 51 percent in Spain. However, those are only percentages among those looking for work. There is another category: those who are “not in employment, education or training,” or NEETs, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) calls them. According to a study by the EU’s research agency, Eurofound, there are as many as 14 million out of work and disengaged young Europeans, costing member states an estimated 153 billion euros (US$200 billion), a year in welfare benefits and lost production — 1.2 percent of the bloc’s GDP.

In Spain, in addition to the 51 percent who are looking for work, 23.7 percent of those aged 15 to 29 have given up looking, said Anne Sonnet, a senior economist studying joblessness at the OECD. In France, it’s 16.7 percent — nearly 2 million young people who have given up; in Italy, 20.5 percent.

As dispiriting, especially for the floating generation, is that 42 percent of those young people who are working are in temporary employment, up from just over one-third a decade ago, the Eurofound study said. Some 30 percent, or 5.8 million young adults, were employed part time — an increase of nearly 9 percentage points since 2001.

That trend is especially evident in France, where 82 percent of people hired today are on temporary contracts, French Labor Minister Michel Sapin said.

“Yes, it’s true, you can find internships or apprenticeships, no problem. The companies take you with open arms. But when you speak of employment, of a permanent contract, it seems they no longer need anyone” Forriez said.

Sonnet, an OECD economist, said that high youth unemployment is a regular problem in France. Companies are afraid to commit to permanent hiring when economic growth is stagnant and charges for social benefits are so high, and the educational system tends to value liberal arts over technical or industrial expertise.

They “often don’t learn the skills that employers need,” she said. “They’re simply not ready to work.”

Sonnet promotes more use of apprenticeships, as in Germany, where students work part time while they go to school.

Francois Beharel, the president of Randstad France, a branch of the multinational employment agency, says the problem of youth unemployment among the educated is worsening at a time when employers are crying out for engineers, computer technicians, electricians and welders.

“We have to begin with parents — ‘stop dreaming of white collars,’” Beharel said. “Blue collars, there really is a true path for them,” he said.

However, small and medium-sized companies, which are France’s primary employers, do not have the resources or the profit margins to train the untrained.

“We’ve piled up battalions of students in general education, and everyone knows that there aren’t 10,000 among them who are going to find the job that they imagined when they entered university,” he said.

Only 40 percent of students get their degree; the rest drop out, trained for nothing.

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