What employment policies for young people?

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This book presents the state of the art on youth-targeted employment policies.

In France, more than 15% of young people are unemployed. This rate rises to 50% for those who, at the age of 20, have at best only completed middle school. It stills stands at 25% when they reach their thirties.

However, there has been no shortage of measures to adress this issue for the past forty years. By reviewing their various evaluations, the authors demonstrate that, despite their cost, most of these measures have only a marginal impact on the professional integration of young people who prematurely left the education system. On the contrary, they highlight the effectiveness of certain strategies employed in other countries. One of them, crucially, is the guidance and preparation of young people during their studies by counselors who support them until they secure employment.


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The numbers are stark: in France, one in six young people is unemployed. And when you delve a bit deeper, the picture becomes even bleaker. For those who haven't progressed beyond middle school, unemployment affects one in two at the age of 20 and one in four at the age of 30. These statistics conceal even harsher realities for the less qualified from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The period following the end of studies is crucial and often resembles an obstacle course marked by high uncertainty. Economic activity alone is not responsible for this situation. The organization of the labor market, the education system, vocational training, information services, guidance, placement, and professional integration programs are fragmented and lack coordination.

Our work provides an assessment of employment policies for young people. Evaluations of these policies result in a somewhat disappointing conclusion. The difficulty in reaching and attracting "NEET" youth (those not in employment, education, or training) without work experience means that a third of them have no contact with any organization dedicated to helping them find employment. For those who are assisted, job search assistance has a positive impact in many cases, but displacement effects on non-beneficiaries limit or even negate its impact on all young people.

Subsidized jobs do not always improve access to unsubsidized employment. They can worsen it if they do not provide certified and useful skills for employers. They can be effective if they are targeted at a population close enough to employment and acquire certified skills, notably through a diploma or professional qualification. As for training, it is not suitable in all circumstances. Reduced job search intensity during training periods can lead to an entrapment effect that can even reduce the incomes of participants when the loss of earnings during training periods is taken into account. Only long-term training programs seem to significantly improve employment prospects. However, they are costly, and cost-benefit analyses, still too rare, do not always favor them.

And what if the solution lies in the education system?

In this field, apprenticeship is often considered "the" solution to promote young people's access to employment, especially the less qualified. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, where apprenticeship is highly developed and which have a ratio between the youth unemployment rate of 15-24-year-olds and that of adults aged 25 to 64 below the OECD average, are frequently cited as examples. The recent evolution of apprenticeship in France is indicative of this mindset: the number of annual entries into apprenticeship has gradually increased from around 100,000 to 300,000 between the early 1990s and 2016, reaching over 830,000 in 2022. Undoubtedly, apprentices generally integrate into employment better than vocational high school students. But the reasons for the better performance of apprenticeship remain poorly understood. Is it related to the selection of young people who become apprentices? To the skills they acquire? To the propensity of companies to hire them at the end of their apprenticeship period? To a better training offer? Answers to these questions remain open, probably because they differ for each training program. This is especially true since the performance of apprenticeship and vocational high schools varies greatly. For the same specialty, it is not uncommon to see vocational high schools offering better career opportunities for their students than young people who have gone through apprenticeship.

Ultimately, a successful entry into the workforce relies primarily on two pillars. First, gaining the diploma that corresponds to one's aspirations and abilities through proper guidance in the education system. Then, finding employment that best matches one's skills and aspirations. All the work on guidance and the transition between the education system and employment shows that decisions in these areas are often poorly informed. This is particularly true for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who less frequently have connections to inform and help them find employment. In this regard, the situation of French youth is far from enviable. The information available to them and to those who could advise them is fragmented and scattered. Despite some local collaborations between employers and educational institutions, there is considerable room for improvement in strengthening the ties between young people completing their studies and businesses. To achieve this, it is crucial to rethink our guidance and information system. The public employment service, in collaboration with businesses and the education system, must play a coordinating and intermediary role to offer every young person an equitable chance of succeeding in their career.

Chapter in Book


Chapter 19: Les politiques d'emploi et de compétitivité

in Les politiques publiques

Collection FAC

La Documentation française

January 2023