For every young graduate, entering the job market can be a nerve-wracking experience. In Europe, where the youth unemployment in many countries is above 20%, it can seem hopeless. This week, graduates in France were given less-than-optimistic advice by critics for their job hunt: "Get out."—
The rainstorm of disparaging remarks started with a New York Times article published on Saturday. "The Best Hope for France's Youth? Get Out," written by news veteran Felix Marquardt, took stabs at France's labor protectionism. France is "a divide between those who have found their place in the system and believe fervently in defending the status quo, and those who are aware that a country has tolerated a youth unemployment rate of 25 percent for nearly 30 years," writes the author. The article emphasized the large gap between permanent and temporary workers. Several days later OECD Deputy Secretary General Rintaro Tamaki reiterated the same points in an interview with Radio France International: "We have seen, say, a very strict dualism between permanent workers fully protected from the risk of being fired, and the very fragile status of temporary workers [in France]. We should shorten the divergence between the two groups."
Full-time employment in France offers generous benefits and incredibly high job security, whereas temporary contracts offer little of either. These temporary jobs are typically given to the youth, if they are so lucky. Marquardt advises many young graduates to search for employment outside of their country's borders. His advice echoes similar remarks by Prime Minister Merkel to BBC last month.
And some are already leaving. Catherine, a recent graduate of the Institut d’Études Politiques (known as Sciences Po), is one such example. Although she graduated from a prestigious school in France, Catherine was unable to find a job in her home country and accepted employment in Australia. Her story was recounted to Francois Hollande on M6, a youth news network. When asked what the president would say to a youth who couldn't find a job, his answer was less than comforting: "I'd tell this young person that France is your country. This country loves you."
Although Catherine's story isn't a success for France's labor market, it may still be one for her. Not all of France's youth can hope for the same outlook. Catherine, having graduated from a top-tier school, will possess one key tool that many others below her do not: language. Due to the infamous "French exception" many universities are forbidden to instruct in English. The irony then arises when France's grandes écoles educate their top-tier students in language skills. The result of these practices means that graduates from institutions like Sciences-Po and HEC are more socially mobile and fleeing the country, while the less-educated are stuck in a system that "loves them."
There has been progress, but not enough. French President Francois Hollande, who made youth unemployment one of his campaign promises, led negotiation efforts in May to give employers more flexibility and tax breaks. While Secretary General Tamaki praised the leader's efforts, he cited that the administration could do more in terms of market rigidity, investing, and entrepreneurship. For many, these reforms cannot come soon enough.