France sets its sights on full employment

Government says 800,000 more people must be in work to meet its target, but labour shortages continue to cause headaches

Lifeguard at work; the government says more people must be employed to meet national target

Full employment is within reach in France, the country’s labour minister has claimed, after figures for the first quarter showed 7.1% unemployment.

Olivier Dussopt said: “For six years, we have had a stated goal of full employment in France, and that goal is now attainable, and closer than it has ever been.”

The French government uses the International Labour Organization’s definition of full employment as equating to 5% unemployment, because there will always be people between jobs, training, or moving, and so out of the workforce.

Some economists argue this is too low for France, and the current rate means the country is already at full employment. Their arguments are backed by increasing labour shortages.

Construction firms, hotels, restaurants, and farms are among those finding it difficult to recruit. On some vineyards and fruit farms, it has been almost impossible to find French seasonal workers, and for over a decade, teams from Bulgaria and Romania have been plugging the gap.

Some have migrated to France, while others return home when the season is over. There is also a special visa scheme for Moroccan workers to help on vineyards.

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Economic insights

Professor Géraldine Rieucau, an economist specialising in employment at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne, in Amiens, told The Connexion: “It is difficult to say what full employment is.

Remember that unemployment figures are a statistical construction, and are based not on the number of people who do not work, but on those who want to work. Also, you have to take into account that the ability of people to move for jobs is limited, especially for precarious jobs.”

The government says 800,000 more people must be in work to meet the 5% target. This rises to 1.3 million if you take into account all the people who want to work but who are not counted in unemployment statistics for various reasons.

Government initiatives

The government has made huge efforts to improve employment figures further, including changing the name of the national job seeker network, Pôle Emploi, to France Travail next year. This, it hopes, will stress its active role in getting people into work rather than being seen as an agency for unemployment allowances.

After pressure from hotel and restaurant trade bodies, the government has also announced a raft of measures to boost recruitment, including special out-of-season contracts in school canteens and similar workplaces where seasonal staff are based.

A budget of €10 million has been allocated to training bodies, usually chambres de commerce, to spend on courses allowing seasonal workers to improve their qualifications and skills out of season, and so get better-paid jobs with more responsibility in the future.

5,000 lifeguards sought

Among vacancies proving particularly hard to fill are permanent lifeguard/swimming instructor jobs. There are two types of lifeguards in France – the nageur sauveteur and the maître nageur-sauveteur (MNS).

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The latter also teaches swimming and is a safety expert, and France is 5,000 short. MNSs have been scarce for several years, but the problem has become particularly acute, says their union SNPMNS.

So much so that, in order for pools and beaches to stay open, the government is allowing nageurs-sauveteurs to be hired instead.

Christel Clapies, who trains MNSs, said: “In terms of rescue and first aid, the nageur-sauveteur is just as qualified as the MNS. But in the long term, it does mean fewer people will learn how to swim, and that is the bigger issue.”

Reasons cited for the shortage include up to nine months of training, average salaries, lack of career progression, and anti-social hours.

In 2016, around 31% of French people aged 15-75 were found to be unable to swim, in a report by the French national health authority. Many youngsters miss out on lessons at school due to a lack of access to pools. Where swimming certification is offered, requirements are often fairly low.

An agency to help seasonal workers find accommodation, using facilities such as university residences, is also being set up, with a target of 6,000 beds by 2025.

Another training project, backed by €340 million from the government, is aimed at art and craft careers (métiers d’art) and will be used to maintain apprenticeship schemes.

Last November, the government mooted a new carte de séjour especially for workers from outside the EU who are skilled in métiers en tension (short-staffed professions). At the moment, regional prefects can only award exceptional (temporary) work permits for such people.

In 2021, métiers en tension included roofers, nurses, civil engineers, mechanics skilled in metal, and carpenters.

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