Youth unemployment in France: une grande préoccupation
Being a French university student isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Sure, you get to have your croissant and chocolat chaud every morning, reading Voltaire or Rousseau while everyone else hurries to work. But there is also the knowledge that you must savour these pleasures because they are sure to end. Then you’ll be left, like many of your generation, with two degrees – including a Masters qualification – yet struggling to find a job in France.
With universities open to all bacheliers (students who pass their baccalauréat), the youth unemployment rate cannot be simply blamed on lack of access to education. Nor can socio-economic disadvantages be solely responsible, with the government helping new job seekers with grants, benefits and housing support.
So why are the French youth struggling so much to manage in the big wide world?
Hollande won a whirlwind election in 2012, only the second Socialist president during the Fifth French Republic. His shoulders needed to be broad to bear France’s troubles and it turns out that they are not quite broad enough. Scandals, controversial bills and his failed efforts to get France’s economy back on track have lost him the support of the people.
Youth unemployment in France has become systemic. In fact, in the last thirty odd years from 1983 to April this year, the average youth unemployment rate has been at 20.7%. Despite the fact that François Hollande was prophesied to be the economic push that France needed, he has sorely disappointed some of his greatest supporters.
A new high in the French unemployment rate in February was a blow to Hollande’s government and saw much of the French public turning their backs on their leader. During his presidency, the youth unemployment rate has in fact decreased – the problem is that it is still worryingly high at 23.20%.
Noting the smaller job market and fierce competitiveness for the few jobs that are available, more students are enrolling in universities or attending France’s Grandes ecoles. In the last two decades, the amount of students enrolling in higher education has increased tenfold. In fact, today more people are enrolling or have enrolled in university, than the amount of students who achieved their bac in the previous generation. And with more students achieving tertiary qualifications, just une licence (an undergraduate degree) is no longer enough. Un master or un doctorat is now expected.
Even then at the end of their studies, many students find themselves jobless. They are overqualified for manual jobs such as factory work and yet too inexperienced to move straight into a high-up position.
Because of this, France has seen a mass exodus of its young people moving to Anglophone countries. There has been a massive increase in the French expat community in London and further afield, especially in Australia, particularly Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. I find myself overhearing French conversations on Melbourne trains more and more often.
Even then at the end of their studies, many students find themselves jobless
En fait, while attending Franglais sessions in Paris, I noticed that the majority of young French people practising their English were doing so because they wanted to work in an Anglophone country. The amount of times I was asked what city in Australia had the best job prospects was innumerable.
On the other hand, younger students just about to complete their bac are seriously questioning whether the five or six years to get a licence then master or doctorat are worth it. With no guarantee of employment post-study, the drop-out rate at French universities is particularly high compared to its European counterparts.
The problem is not new, but with President Hollande’s determination to turn around unemployment figures, the lack of significant change leaves a bleak outlook for the future of many graduates.
As The New York Times reported back in 2006, Christine le Forestier, a 2005 graduate of Nanterre campus of the University of Paris with un master, was unable to find a regular job a full year after graduating. “Universities are factories,” she said, “They are machines to turn out thousands and thousands of students who have learned all about theory but nothing practical. A diploma [or bachelor degree] is worth nothing in the real world.”
How does this affect us?
As Francophiles living – or dreaming of living – in France, employment is a necessary concern. With a rise in attention to French national interest (evident through current leanings towards the Front National Party) the possibility of non-nationals finding employment in the stiff job market becomes smaller and smaller.
Further to unrest and dissatisfaction in France, these troubling figures invariably lead to manifestations and strikes. As I’m sure many of us know, strikes in France can be extremely inconvenient to travelers and locals alike, and are hard to avoid.
Although the negatives of the situation are significant, there is one positive. For those of us living in these Anglophone countries, the growth of the French expat community means an enriching of our own culture. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll bring a little bit of the French lifestyle into our lives.
If you were a young person in France today, what would you do to ensure job security? Share your comments and thoughts in the comments section below.Image credits
1. Graduation caps via Flickr
2. François Hollande via Flickr
3. Population with a university degree via The Economist
4. Drop out rate via The Guardian