Make sense of: fake practice offices in France

The unemployment rate in France went down earlier this year for the first time in six years. It means that it has dropped from its record of 10.5% in 2013 to 8.5% (March-June 2019 figure). But the rate is still one of the highest in Europe, although behind Greece, Spain and Italy. We look at two schemes that France uses to get people into work, including a network of 110 “pretend” offices where 7,000 people go to “work” every day across the country.

Published Last updated

Pretend offices are fully working offices.

They have desks, a wall clock, computers, order books and jobs to perform, as in the real world – except the firms do not trade and are just for practice.

The offices are set up to teach professional skills to people looking for a job.

They allow trainees to get up to speed with new practices.

Working methods have changed fast with digitalisation so this helps workers get the necessary experience to be more employable.

The “workers” can be adults, but students are welcome if they are motivated and have a good professional project, according to Pierre Troton, director of the network behind the offices, REEP (Réseau des Entreprises d’Entraînement Pédagogiques).

“There are two groups – young people aged 18-25 looking for their first job, and people who are 40-60 seeking career evolution or a new job,” he said.

There are about 15 “workers” per company and they can choose between five different programmes: administration, trade, accounting, human resources, or management. They can also gain experience by carrying out simulated market studies.

They do not get a salary but are considered interns. Pôle Emploi or the Conseil Régional can pay them unemployment benefit or a small set amount.

The interns usually stay for three to 12 months and, at the end, most of them pass a diploma to validate their skills.

Some of them go on to create their own companies.

Mr Troton said 60% to 70% “find a job afterwards and they say that the training programme has given them a new and stronger dynamic”.

The offices have financial support from the Minister of Education.

The idea started in Germany in 1870 and was useful after World War One, when Germany needed returning soldiers (often unskilled farm workers) to be trained quickly so they could rebuild the economy.

About 3,000 similar offices exist across Europe – meaning trainees can also work between an office in France and another abroad, so language skills and cross-culture working experience can be practised.

Unemployed people can participate in the programme through Pôle Emploi, and young people with the Mission Locale and handicapped people can have access to it with Cap Emploi.

Another support system to help people into work is offered by pépinières d’entreprises (business nurseries).

They were created in the 1980s and offered by Pôle Emploi for those who are starting a self-employed business.

Every project must be accompanied by a business plan, which is looked at by a panel of professionals who decide on the relevance of the idea.

If successful, the new entrepreneur has access to a series of benefits, such as office space at about 10% to 15% below the average market rate. This can be a single-desk office or a large, open-plan space.

The offices are in a complex and often have shared facilities, such as photocopiers, a reception desk, meeting room, toilets, and space to relax.

Business creators are supported by other professionals and are given contacts for banks and experts in their field.

They are given advice, training and often financial help. They can buy material at reduced prices and will have expense reductions.

Their contract at a pépinière is valid for two to three years but can be renewed.

There are more than 400 sites like these in France and they are grouped into three types: general, specialised and innovative.

It is recommended that you visit several in your area to select the one most appropriate for your business type and geographical links.

You make an application directly to the pépinière to join.

In some circumstances, entrepreneurs can launch their business but continue to receive unemployment benefit to top up their earnings to their full benefit amount.

The image here was drawn by artist Perry Taylor. For more of his work see