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Kohei Isohata

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Young French people and careers

Kohei Isohata
Assistant Professor of Social Policy, Human Resources Management Theory and Career Education, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University

Introduction

At a glance, France has a glamorous image thanks to gourmet food such as French cuisine and wine, as well as tourists spots including the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile. However, as of November 2012, the unemployment rate among young people in France was 26.1%. One out of four people from the age of 15 to 24 years old is unemployed and young people face severe conditions when searching for employment. Furthermore, more than half of young people are irregular employees. As of 2011, the ratio of irregular employment for all employed individuals from 15 to 64 years old is 15.0%. However, when considering only young people, this ratio rises to 53.5%.

As shown by the numbers above, it is difficult for young French people to find employment. Moreover, even if they are lucky enough to obtain work, a large portion of that work is unstable employment. So, how do young French people search for employment? In this article, I will examine the search for employment and state of career formation in France.

Young people’s search for employment in France

Firstly, in what style do young French people search for employment? During hiring in France, the trend is to prioritize new employees who can immediately make a positive contribution. Although Japan has a custom of hiring new graduates with no prior employment experience and then cultivating personnel, such a custom does not normally exist in France and other western countries. Employees are hired based strictly on each individual’s certification and employment experience.

In the case of hiring which prioritizes immediate contribution, students with no work experience are naturally at the greatest disadvantage. A system for batch hiring of new graduates has taken root in Japan. Such new employees are treated as new graduates, a different status than mid-career employees who are expected to contribute immediately when entering a new company. Accordingly, factors such as character, motivation and potential are prioritized when hiring new graduates in Japan. New graduates are almost never asked about their specialized certification or work experience. In that respect, they are protected as a new graduate brand and don’t have to compete with mid-career employees who possess work experience. However, France doesn’t discern between new graduates and mid-career employees. In other words, unlike Japan, new graduates are not excused from lacking work experience simply because they have just finished school. When applying for a certain post, appropriate certification or prior work experience in a similar post is prioritized.

Career formation of young French people

Now, how does a normal student without work experience attempt to find employment? Normally, a young person with little or no work experience first engages in irregular employment such as limited term employment or temporary work. Then, after acquiring work experience, they finally enter unlimited term employment which is equivalent to full-time employment in Japan. I refer to this process of entering the labor market as participation in stages.

According to the Enquête Génération 2004 survey by Ceréq (Centre d'études et de recherches sur les qualifications), 66% or 2 out of every 3 young people who finished their schooling in 2004 and entered employment started their career from irregular employment such as limited term employment or temporary work (refer to Table 1). According to a follow-up survey conducted 3 years later, only 63% of those students had obtained unlimited term employment. In other words, it took 3 years for more than 60% of this generation to acquire unlimited term employment.

As discussed above, the main characteristics of career formation by young people in France are 1) young people acquire work experience through repeated unstable employment, participating in the labor market in stages, and 2) it takes several years for young people to enter stable employment.

Table 1: Career formation by young people in France
(%)
  Initial Employment Employment After 3 Years
Form of Employment Regular employment 30 63
Irregular employment 66 33
  limited term employment 38 19
Temporary work 19 8
Employment policy, etc. 9 6
Self-employment, etc. 4 4
Total 100 100
(Source) Ceréq, Enquête Génération 2004.

Period of searching for employment

In France, it takes young people several years after graduation to gradually shift from irregular employment to stable regular employment. This process of career formation in France provides insight into differences with Japan.

The first difference is the period of searching for employment. In Japan, which has a system for batch hiring of new graduates, it is normal for students to begin their search for employment before graduation and to receive a job offer by the time they graduate. In France, it is common for students to begin their search for employment after graduating. Table 2 is a comparison of when students start searching for employment. When excluding no responses, 97% of Japanese student began searching for employment before graduation. On the other hand, in France, only about 20% of students began their search for employment before graduation. 63% or nearly 2 out of every 3 students began looking for employment after graduation.

Table 2: Start of Search for Employment
(%)
  Before graduation Around graduation After graduation No Response Total
France 9.9 8.2 31.2 50.7 100.0
Japan 88.0 1.8 1.0 9.2 100.0
(Source) The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (formerly the Japanese Institute of Labor) (2001), Japanese/European Universities and Employment—Results of a Survey Comparing 12 Countries in Regards to Higher Education and Employment, p. 59

Career path from irregular to regular employment

Another difference between the two countries is the career path from irregular employment to regular employment. In Japan, it is normal for new graduates to start in regular employment as a full-time employee. Conversely, it is difficult to change employment from irregular to regular employment. Under the system for batch hiring of new graduates, it is normal for Japanese university students to find regular employment before graduation. However, if Japanese students miss the timing for finding employment and fail to obtain a regular position prior to graduation, then they are usually treated as normal university graduates and are forced to compete with mid-career employees despite having no work experience. Therefore, it is difficult for such graduates to find regular employment and they often have no choice other than to take an irregular position. In this way, a defining problem of the Japanese labor market is that once an individual has started in an irregular position, they are unable to plot a subsequent career path and have difficulty ascending from irregular employment.

In France, it is normal to gradually shift from irregular to regular employment. Of course, compared to Japan, it is difficult for French students to start from a regular position. Since new graduates lack experience, they cannot compete with mid-career applicants who already possess work experience. Consequently, they are forced into irregular positions. However, since it is normal to start one’s career from irregular work, following a career from irregular employment to regular employment is easier than in Japan.

Method of finding employers

Finally, let’s examine how young people find employers. This method differs in Japan and France. According to a Reflex survey on graduates of higher education in Japan and Europe, a high percentage of Japanese students (34.6%) find an employer through support from institutes of higher education. One such example is the Careers Advisory Office of Chuo University. The next most common method for finding an employer is to use the internet; specifically, employment websites (see Table 3).

Table 3: Method for Finding an Employer
France Rank Japan
Contacted employer on own initiative 21.4% 1st Through help of higher education institution 34.6%
Through internship during higher education 16.8% 2nd Through internet 25.1%
Through public employment agency 16.3% 3rd Through advertisement in newspaper 13.4%
Through family, friends or acquaintances 11.3% 4th Through family, friends or acquaintances 11.7%
Through help of higher education institution 7.6% 5th Through private employment agency 4.6%
(Source) Created by the author using Reflex data.

From the perspective of Japan, a country with strong support from institutes of higher education and a wealth of employment websites, it may be surprising that French students do not rely on such tools. Instead, the greatest percentage of students (21.4%) contacted an employer on own initiative. The reason for this behavior is that France does not have a standardized system of employment such as the Japanese system for batch hiring of new graduates. Instead, the application period and application method differ according to the corporation.

In France, the second most common method (16.8% of all students) for finding an employer is an internship during higher education. Internships are an included as an essential part of searching for employment in France. Students spend several months or a year in a corporate internship. These authentic internships are used as a type of trial employment period and there are many cases of students being hired through internships. As a result, internships rank as the second most prevalent method for finding an employer. In this way, internships have permeated French society as a gateway for employment.

Of course generalizations cannot be made, but the act of taking the initiative to contact a corporation and investigating each company while participating in an internship seems to be an image fitting of France, at least more so than the Japanese process in which each company follows a similar process and established rules for hiring.

Conclusion

Young people in France face tough employment conditions with an unemployment rate exceeding 25%. The French find work through completely different methods than Japan. In France, priority is given to employees who can make immediate contributions. Therefore the most common career path is to spend several years after graduation on gradual transition from irregular employment to stable regular employment. Since most people start their careers from irregular employment, there is the demerit of an unstable lifestyle immediately after starting their career. Conversely, it is much easier to follow a career path from irregular to regular employment when compared to Japan, where it is difficult to advance once a person has taken an irregular position. Additionally, although Japan has strong support from institutes of higher education and a wealth of employment websites, students in France find an employer by contacting corporations by themselves and participating in internships during higher education.

Kohei Isohata
Assistant Professor of Social Policy, Human Resources Management Theory and Career Education, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Born in Tokyo. Graduated from the Osaka University of Foreign Studies (currently Osaka University in 2006). Completed the Doctoral Program in the Chuo University Graduate School of Economics in 2011. Holds a PhD in economics. Assumed current position in 2011.
Currently, his main activity is demonstration research for the career development results of internships which have become a part of French society. His research field also includes employment issues for young people and employment policies in France, as well as employment support in Japan.
His written works include Understanding Economics, Society and Culture in France (co-written; Chuo University Press). His recent major theses include Educational Values of Internships in France—The Roles of Internships in Career Formation (Bulletin de la Societe Franco-Japonaise de Gestion, No. 30). He also made a cameo appearance in the Swiss documentary film “negative : nothing”.