France’s “COVID generation” facing a bleak future with scarce jobs

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PARIS (Reuters) – In September, Eugénie Fillon is expected to begin a two-year master’s degree in luxury hotels combining academic studies and employee learning. The problem: during the worst economic slowdown in decades, hotels in France do not recruit.

Armelle Bahrouni, a 23-year-old job seeker poses at the office of the National Employment Agency (Pôle Emploi) following the onset of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in La Courneuve, near Paris, France June 9, 2020. Photo taken June 9, 2020. REUTERS / Gonzalo Fuentes

If the 22-year-old fails to secure placement, not only will she be deprived of starting income and work experience. She will also face fees of 18,000 euros.

“Normally, there are job offers. But there have hardly been any since the start of the crisis, “said Fillon, browsing online job postings on a park bench in Nantes, in the west of the country.

“When I saw the number of coronaviruses and the closed borders, I wondered” will a hotel need me next year? “. ”

France was already one of the worst places in Europe to be a young job seeker due to a rigid labor market and the resulting shortage of long-term contracts. When the coronavirus struck, finding a job, even as an apprentice, became more difficult.

Fillon is not alone. Some 800,000 young people in France will enter the job market this summer, while the second largest economy in the euro zone is expected to fall by 11%.

France is struggling to provide enough long-term jobs for its young people. The youth unemployment rate exceeded 20% in the fourth quarter of 2019, the fourth highest in Europe behind Greece, Spain and Italy, according to the OECD.

Heavy labor laws mean that companies generally prefer to give young people short-term contracts that offer little job security.

But President Emmanuel Macron has advanced reforms to liberalize France’s highly regulated labor market and encourage the hiring of apprentices.

Unemployment fell before the crisis – although it was still about double the rate in Britain and Germany – and long-term contracts were up. The same is true for apprenticeships, up 17% over one year in 2019.

“This crisis has shown the fragility (of the achievements of the reform),” said Mathieu Plane, economist at the French Economic Observatory (OFCE).

“WORST POSSIBLE TIME”

In France, young workers and job seekers are hit twice, Plane said. They were generally the first to be dumped by companies during a recession and have an oversized presence in the struggling tourism and hospitality industries.

The government may have to think about state-subsidized jobs for 15- to 24-year-olds if private sector hiring remains weak for several years, he added.

Armelle Bahrouni, 23, left her job at the Paris bar in February, a month before the French foreclosure, because she wanted to find a reception desk with a view to one day running a bar.

Four months later, Parisian bars and restaurants can only offer outside seating. Many remain closed and Bahrouni is unemployed.

“The longest period in which I haven’t done anything in my life for two months. And even then, I did temporary work, “said Bahrouni.

In the coming days, the Macron government will hold talks with unions and employer groups on how to create jobs for young people during the depression.

There is an urgent need. The Ministry of Labor predicts that up to 320,000 young people will join the queues at job search centers. Youth unemployment could reach 30%, he predicts.

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“I entered the job market at the worst time,” said Louis Lhomme, 23, who received a master’s degree in urban planning at Sciences Po Paris this summer, which has educated French decision-makers for more than a century.

The man said he chose to enroll in a second master’s degree rather than settle for imperfect employment – an option that few can afford.

“It will protect me from the worst of the crisis.”

Report by Michaela Cabrera and Caroline Pailliez; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Mike Collett-White

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