France to spend 1 billion euros to boost learning

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French Minister of Labor Muriel Penicaud addresses the press following their meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and French unions at the Elysée Palace in Paris, France, June 4, 2020. Yoan Valat / Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) – France will devote an additional € 1 billion (£ 900 million) to a program to boost apprenticeship in French companies as part of new measures to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on the job.

Additional state support for the apprenticeship program – one of the government’s little-known successes before the crisis – was announced after President Emmanuel Macron met with unions and employers at the Elysee Palace.

“We have experienced a historic growth in learning. We cannot sacrifice the younger generation, “said Minister of Labor Muriel Penicaud after the talks.

State aid for the hiring of apprentices under the age of 18 will be increased to 5,000 euros against 4,125 euros and for apprentices aged 18 and over to 8,000 euros against 5,125 euros.

France is keen to avoid a wave of layoffs and is also relying on a German-inspired device to financially encourage companies to keep workers on their books by cutting their hours rather than cutting jobs.

“The challenge is to save jobs and skills,” said Penicaud, adding that the terms of the new program will be released within two weeks.

Keeping workers in their jobs, even with reduced hours, would help preserve skills and allow a faster rebound once demand for French products picks up, say presidential advisers.

Macron acted quickly to transform the job market during the first years of his presidency, which made it easier to hire and fire workers in an effort to reduce unemployment that had historically remained high even in times of prosperity .

His objective, before the coronavirus crisis, was to reduce it to 7% by the end of his mandate in 2022. However, containing the rise in unemployment will be a key factor in the possible re-election of Macron.

Additional reporting by Caroline Pailliez and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Chris Reese, Kirsten Donovan

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