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Giving every young person a chance in the job market

Education, skills, choice of orientation or support, not all young people have the same cards in hand when they enter the job market. Should we resign ourselves to it? We asked Marc Ferracci, a member of the National Assembly’s Social Affairs Committee, and Alexandre Pastor, a young entrepreneur from Marseille involved in the Cercle(s) des économistes’ Jeunesse(s) project, to discuss it.

The employability of young people at the end of their studies is regularly criticised, with skills that are sometimes not in line with the needs of the labour market, a weak connection between business and education, etc. What do you think of these criticisms?

MARC FERRACCI : We have to start from the observation that the acquisition of fundamental knowledge, numeracy and literacy, which are a necessary condition for retraining later on, is deficient and must be improved. Then there is the acquisition of skills that are useful to the economic fabric. For several decades, the choice of a single college has been made, without questioning it, including in recent announcements on education. The single secondary school means that we set ourselves the ambition of taking 80% of an age group to the level of the general or technological baccalaureate. This is not the choice that other countries have made. In Switzerland, the proportion is completely reversed, with about 80% of an age group going on to vocational education. The question is also: do the skills acquired through general or technological training in initial education correspond to the needs of companies? On this subject, we need to be open-minded: we do not aim to train people who are directly employable in companies, but we need skills that allow them to develop professionally and first and foremost social skills. It is well known that the French education system does not promote cooperation between students and the ability to interact socially. We can see this clearly when we need to integrate young people into companies. What employers are telling us is, “I don’t need him to come in with technical skills, I’m going to teach them. On the other hand, I need them to know how to arrive on time, to know how to integrate into a work group and to have the ability to interact with their colleagues or superiors.” That’s what companies are missing.

ALEXANDRE PASTOR : When I talk to young people in different workshops, they say they don’t have the opportunity to prove what they can do, they don’t have the space to express themselves to do it. The national education system also finds it difficult to make room for external actors, associations or companies […]. I think that there is an even stronger link to be made on the construction of the programs and therefore of the learning process, because teachers are more and more asked to be experts in everything, but when you are an expert in everything, you are an expert in nothing! It is noticeable that young people entering the job market lack soft skills. Because they haven’t been confronted with working life, they have not been confronted with the reality of work. I think it is interesting to be able to gradually bring them into the company, as we see, for example, in some large companies that are setting up their own training organisation. Nor should we move towards privatisation, as some countries are doing, but we should really try to find a balance.

Career choices are essential to facilitate entry into the labour market. However, not all young people are equal when it comes to them. What measures do you think are necessary to correct these inequalities?

M F : It’s a vast debate. First of all, we owe transparency, especially to low-income families, on what the professional opportunities are for each training. With the 2018 Professional Future Act, the “InserJeunes” scheme provides information on the integration rate and the number of professionals for each diploma, in each vocational education establishment. The aim was to provide transparent information to young people when, at the end of the3rd year, they make their choice of orientation. We must now follow the logic to its logical conclusion by putting this information on Affelnet [assignment service in high schools and CFAs after the3rd grade] and by making it compulsory to consult it before making the choices […]. Many young people are directed towards fields that offer few opportunities due to a lack of knowledge. But it is not enough to have information, it is also necessary to give people a taste for professions, and to do this they must put young people in a professional situation as much as possible. It also means putting them in front of actors who come to talk about their profession, some of whom have a bad image, which often comes from a problem of representation, especially for industrial professions […]. A young person has only a 40% chance of being employed after obtaining their vocational baccalaureate. We are talking about young people who have made the effort to work, who have graduated and who are unable to guarantee a job behind it.

A P : I think there’s the question of role modeling. There are quite a few young girls and boys who don’t dare to go into certain professions because there are no people who look like them. We need to be able to break this stereotype and change this paradigm by allowing people to embody certain professions that were not accessible to some 10, 20 or 30 years ago. It is also necessary to create a link on a human level. Knowing the employment rate is good. But having lived it, when you’re 15 years old, a percentage doesn’t mean much. Whereas meeting someone who has struggled like us or who can share their success… There is also the question of training the people who accompany, i.e. the guidance counsellors, who must be trained to reduce gender or social biases and so that it is not young people who adapt to the market but the market that adapts to the talents of young people.

M F : On the subject of vocations, the idea is obviously not to send people into funnels by saying: “there is room in this profession, you have to go for it”. They need to be able to have that freedom to feel their way around, to choose and to find their way. The title of Xavier Jaravel’s latest book, Marie Curie lives in Morbihan, is very revealing. He means that there are geniuses everywhere in France and that the responsibility of the National Education and the research system is to bring out these talents, by confronting people with science, innovation, discovery, with all the mistakes that this implies. This is also what we have a lot of trouble doing in France: teaching people to be wrong.

A P: The relationship to failure is not the same depending on social conditions, the environment in which one works, lives and is educated. Some people tell themselves that they can’t afford to fail because if they fall, they won’t get a second chance. While others may say to themselves “I’m trying, it’s okay if I can’t do it, I can go back to my parents’ house or someone will be there for me”. But yes, we need to change the relationship to failure.

Support in the transition between studies and professional life is key: 62% of 18-30 year olds think that they have not been well supported during this period[1]. What should be done?

M F : There is no single answer. Mentoring is one of the solutions that can have an impact, especially for young people who have a network deficit. But it’s not just mentoring, there’s also job search support […]. Vocational schools, for example, find it very difficult to connect with the world of work and to support young people in their search for their first job. However, when you don’t find the right first job, the entire trajectory and professional career are affected. The “Avenir’pro” experiment consists of bringing in advisers from Pôle emploi or private operators, who teach young people how to look for a job and who support them in this search once they have obtained their baccalaureate.

A P : The question of mentoring goes back to the question of openness to the network. For young people who don’t have a network, this is very important because from the3rd or2nd grade, it can be traumatic to see that some find an internship very quickly while others, until the day before, did not find it. Secondly, there needs to be a more balanced balance of power in mentoring, where the young person can bring something to the mentor. A relationship must be created between the person who is going to welcome the employer into the company and the young person who is going to welcome the employer into his or her life. It will bring dignity back to young people by saying to themselves: “I am useful, I have the ability to contribute something”. I would also like to talk about volunteering, which is not valued enough, having lived through it […]. We need to put words to these skills and help them to promote them, I think it would unlock some barriers to be able to enter the job market.

One of the major obstacles to entering the labour market is discrimination, which is often implicit or even unconscious. How did we get here?

M F : At the root of discrimination in hiring, there are biases in representation. For example, we will consider that a young person from the neighbourhoods does not have the codes to integrate into a work environment, that someone who is fat is not very dynamic and does not have a vocation to contribute something to the company because he lets himself go, etc. These representation biases are on employers’ minds and they are massive. This can be illustrated by a statistic: 42% of workers have been victims or witnesses of discrimination in their professional activity. Practices that promote self-isolation have been allowed to develop, without really being tackled. When you’re a recruiter, you tend to recruit people who look like you, who have had the same background. But the school system is itself unequal […], so inequalities are reproduced. Now, how do we tackle it? First, by making people aware that they are discriminating against each other in spite of themselves. This is where testing, in my opinion, is interesting, because it allows you to put your finger on practices. When you show an employer that in the last 500 hires they have systematically discarded certain types of resumes, they see that there is a problem. We can also question certain recruitment processes that generate biases, in particular the algorithms that sort CVs […]. Finally, it is also necessary to train the people in charge of recruitment by making them put themselves in the shoes of the people who have been discriminated against.

A P : We need to humanize the recruitment process, which is increasingly robotic […]. It is also necessary to reintegrate into society for the long term and therefore, in the recruitment process, to take the time for exchange, to understand the person, their history, where they come from and how they came to face us. For example, it may have taken her 1 hour and 30 minutes to come and does not arrive in the same conditions as the one who just took 20 minutes […]. It goes against the grain of our fast-paced society, but when we take the time to listen to people, we realize that all the answers are in front of us. And that’s where we find solutions.

In France, 12.8% of 15-29 year olds are not in education, training or employment (they are called NEETs). How do you explain that in one of the world’s largest economic powers, 1.4 million young people are excluded in this way?

A P : For me, NEETs are not off the radar but outside the “big machines” like Pôle emploi. In fact, these people are identified by the local associations, which are really close to the inhabitants. These associations know how to reach out and how to unite these people, whether in the neighbourhoods or in the rural communities. These associations must have the ear of the prefect or the large associations, which are well enough organized to support them in the writing of projects. But often, these associations do not manage to put on paper what they do on a daily basis, to make their action palpable in order to obtain funding for a project. It is therefore necessary to promote the consortium, to build with those who are on the ground in order to then translate their projects to the institutions. I think this may be one of the answers to be able to really unite and reach out to NEETs.

M F : It’s a very broad and complicated question. First of all, we have to say to ourselves: to prevent there being too many NEETs, we must prevent people from falling into this situation. It is therefore first of all the question of the adequacy of the school system to the vocational or non-vocational system, the question of basic knowledge, etc. Basically, it is the question of the effectiveness of our initial education system, we must not act as if the problem begins when people switch to NEET status.

Today, we need to make the most personalized diagnoses possible because we realize that there is a great diversity of situations […]. First of all, what pushes us to drop out and what can we solve upstream? Then, a personalized diagnosis must be made. If we take the example of harassment, we do not send young people who have been harassed or humiliated by one teacher in front of another teacher in the context of vocational training as easily. We have to start with this very fine diagnosis. Sometimes, there are young people who have not had any difficulties and then, at some point, have had a family problem, have been sick, have been away from school for a few months and have dropped out without ever coming back. There are also people who are at odds with the world of work because they don’t recognize themselves in the world of work. All of this calls for different responses […]. So I’m not going to come up with a single method and solution, it doesn’t exist. Dozens and dozens of schemes have been invented over the years to enable young people to enter the labour market. The two lessons I draw from this are that we need to be as close as possible to people at the time of diagnosis, with a human touch, and that we need to evaluate things, including in a scientific way. The countries that have solved a large part of the problem of youth unemployment are the countries that evaluate in a systematic way.

The Youth(s) Project

The Cercle’s Jeunesse( s ) project is the first scheme in France aimed at fully integrating youth issues into economic thinking and public policies. In three stages, young people supervised by experts from the academic, economic or associative worlds, discuss, reflect and co-construct concrete proposals, brought to the Rencontres Économiques d’Aix-en-Provence by a delegation of 150 young people. Last year, 35,000 young people took part in the scheme.

To learn more and join the conversation, click here.