Friday, 11 March 2011

The French Job Market

I'm certainly not the first person to talk about how difficult it is for anyone - ANYONE - to find work in this country, but I think our situation confirms the clichés one hears about gainful employment in France.

It's nigh-on impossible to find a foreigner in any type of non-specialised work. You'll never encounter an Italian working for the Post Office, Argentinians are pretty thin on the ground in Social Services and you'll die of hunger if your goal is to uncover an American shop assistant before you settle down to dinner. The difficulties experienced by people of north African descent in French society is well-documented, but there's another group who might feel justified in giving up the unequal struggle at a comparatively tender age: the normal French person, around 40 years of age without the baccalauréat. Anyone in this group will probably never be considered for anything other than minimum wage McJobs, the French system preferring, as it does, a list of qualifications as long as your arm for even the most menial of desk jobs that, in another country with different attitudes, would see the candidate propelled immediately into at least middle management. I'm thinking specifically of Mrs. Fingers, here. She's perfectly trilingual, has been retail floor manager at Burberry's of London, translated CD-Roms between her various languages and has been PA to leading lights at Bang and Olufsen, but here in France she's never called for anything other than call centre work or reception. She doesn't have the bac, you see, and this, in this most atrophied of work markets, is the only piece of paper that lazy employers want to know about. Even people who have worked for years for a company will see their aspirations of promotion dashed if they haven't sat the requisite interim exams. It absolves the employer of any responsibility, any personal investment and, by association, any needless, time-consuming personal interest in the candidate. Successive governments have tried to make the market more flexible and mobile but always, after some nominal incentives to employers, seem to stumble and give up, generally shortly before elections. For my part, I came across my current employer by chance back in 1999; right place, right time. I worked here for three weeks then went to the USA, then to Paris and finally to Germany (again) before they called me, five years later, to ask if I could come for seven months. I did, and one thing led to another and I've now been there six years, but it was all 'chance' encounters; had I originally sent (and re-sent) a CV, I'd still be waiting...

Were Mrs. Fingers still living in England, she'd be at least manageress of some shop or restaurant; at most, running her own business. I really don't know which system is better, if one can talk of a comparison at all. France's labour market may be as slovenly as a snail on Super Glue, but it does offer a lot of security to those fortunate enough to have got into it. Little wonder no-one with any electoral clout (i.e. employees) wishes to see anything change.

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