Written by Joanna Hughes

France has one of Europe’s highest unemployment rates, and yet suffers from a lack of skilled workers. This scenario, now threatening the country’s economic recovery, recently prompted France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, to declare skills to be the nation’s “the most important economic issue.” Here’s a closer look at what France is doing to correct its course, as recently reported by Financial Times.

A Skills Shortage

The FT details examples of a lack of qualified people in certain fields, such as engineering and maintenance.

The root of the problem, according to Le Maire? “We have a system of learning that does not provide the skills that are needed. And suddenly, you have failing unemployment.” In fact, as much as 90 percent of mid-sized companies are struggling with recruitment issues, reveals a July report from public investment bank Bpifrance, with inadequate employee qualifications cited as the main cause.

Improving Workforce Skills

While companies devise strategies to find the skilled workers the need, the government is putting professional training at the forefront of planning, following the example of the Nordic model of lifelong learning.

“Between 200,000 and 330,000 vacancies were unfilled last year and the government hopes that by revamping the €32bn annual professional training scheme, it will be able to improve workforce skills, close the skills gap and cut unemployment,” explains the FT.  To that end, it has implemented a €3 billion annual initiative aimed at training a million jobless people and school dropouts over the next five years.

Beginning in January of 2020, meanwhile, every full-time and part-time worker will be permitted to spend €5,000 on career training in the area of their choice. (This amount climbs to €8,000 for workers with no qualifications.)

The government’s plans are being applauded by both employers and economists, but the payoff will be anything but immediate.

Michala Marcussen, group chief economist at Société Générale, told the FT, “There’s been a number of initiatives put in place by the French government but of course you can’t whisk up skills overnight. It takes time and requires a strong dialogue between the corporate sector, professional training and higher education.”  

Learn more about courses in France here

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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