By Marieke Vandeweyer
France’s economy has been recovering gradually from the Global Financial Crisis, and economic growth is projected to continue to strengthen in the next years (OECD, 2017). However, the unemployment rate remains above the OECD and EU average and a large share of the unemployed have been out of work for more than 12 months. This suggests that many skills in France are not being used, and are therefore at risk of depreciation and even obsolescence. Labour market outcomes are especially poor for youth, migrants and the low-skilled.
In addition to underutilisation, France suffers from a general misalignment between the skills developed in school and those required in the labour market. Educational attainment rates of the adult population are in line with the OECD average, but proficiency in key information-processing skills, essential to further participation in training, is relatively low. Participation in vocational education, and especially apprenticeships, is low and on the decline. Moreover, relatively few adults participate in education and training activities.
At the same time, the demand for skills has been changing. Megatrends, such as technological progress and globalisation, have resulted in a rising demand for high-skilled workers in the French economy. These trends have also raised the importance of transversal skills to facilitate adult learning participation and job transitions.
As a result, skills imbalances have emerged in the French labour market (Figure 1). Shortages emerge in high-level cognitive skills, such as complex problem solving and reasoning abilities, but also in transversal skills such as social skills, verbal abilities and basic skills facilitating further learning. On the other hand, surpluses concentrate in manual skills such as endurance and physical strength). In addition, at the individual level, many French workers are mismatched to their job: around one in three workers are employed in occupations for which a different level of education would be required (i.e. they are over- or underqualified) and a similar share of workers are mismatched in terms of field-of-study (Figure 2).
The recently released OECD report Getting Skills Right: France describes policies put in place in France to address skills imbalances, and provides policy recommendations and best practise examples to help French policy-makers better align skills demand and supply.
To tackle skills mismatches and shortages, multiple initiatives have been set up to make vocational education more attractive, and incentives have been put in place for employers to make apprenticeship places available. Lifelong learning is encouraged and facilitated through several training initiatives, including personal training accounts and individual training leave. Training opportunities for the unemployed have been scaled up substantially and career guidance in schools has been more closely aligned with the world of work. On the demand side, the development of high-skilled economic activity is fostered through investment plans, policies that stimulate re-industrialisation and the promotion of entrepreneurial activity among students.
To improve skills utilisation, the OECD recommends that France:
- Improve the quality of vocational education, by ensuring that the content of vocational programmes is more in line with the needs of employers. Extend vocational education to new emerging sectors, and increase the number of students in apprenticeships.
- Better promote existing lifelong learning possibilities and available support measures among low-skilled workers and the unemployed.
- Present information on these training options, including the personal training accounts, and career guidance information in a user-friendly and interactive way, making it easy for user to identify the information that is most relevant to them.
- Create a platform for cooperation and knowledge-sharing between stakeholders involved in skill needs assessment exercises. Synthesise the results from different exercises in an effort to make better use of the results in policy making.
- Clearly link career guidance information to the outcomes of skill needs assessment exercises.
- Use skill needs information to steer participation in training towards the development of in-demand skills. Training options in the personal training accounts, for example, should be more closely aligned with real labour market needs.
Other policy recommendations and good practice examples from other countries can be found in the full report (in English or in French). More detailed results from the Skills for Jobs database for France are described in the Skills for Jobs country profile.
OECD (2017), OECD Economic Surveys: France 2017, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eco_surveys-fra-2017-en