Updated 9 months ago

Clichés abound on the French labour market. For some, France can be summarised by perpetual strikes, long lunches fueled by good wine, and an early 5pm finish. The international image of the country was further degraded when the HR director of Air France was seen leaving a meeting shirtless, forced to jump over a fence to escape a disgruntled group of employees. But do not stop at these anecdotes – France is home to some of the foremost companies in the world, and its rich historical, cultural, academic and artistic heritage makes it a truly unique country, and is ever-hungry for talent it cannot source locally.

Structural labour issues

The unemployment rate hovered around the 10% mark for most of 2016; an alarming figure for one of the world’s leading economies. Although France has had historically high levels of unemployment, the inability of the country to reduce its current levels of unemployment has been a source of concern both locally and internationally. Jobs in France, or the lack thereof, have been a crucial element of the presidential elections held in 2017 and featured prominently in the electoral manifestos. In 2016, the government pushed through reforms to energise the labour market but were faced with stiff resistance from the country’s labor unions. Economists point to a range of causes behind the dismal performance of France when it comes to employment, citing the high minimum wage, excessive regulation, a lack of flexibility in French labour laws, and inefficient public spending.

Shortage of skills

All of these factors have led to a perceived lack of competitiveness of French companies, especially when compared to their European or international peers. However, despite the dire headlines, France still needs foreign labour, especially at the two ends of the skills spectrum. Indeed, many unskilled jobs are carried out by nationals of European countries with lower costs of living. Additionally, both French companies and international companies operating in France are frequently recruit highly skilled workers either from Europe or internationally. International recruiting is so important that specific visa schemes have been setup to facilitate the administrative procedures associated with sourcing talent internationally.

The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) has established the five top skilled occupations for which there are shortages. They are ICT professionals, medical doctors, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professionals, nurses and midwifes, and teachers. Although the specific requirements vary for the different member states, the five listed professions are quite representative of the requirements of France. Another profession which is in strong demand in France are legal professionals. The agencies of the European Union provide good insights with regards to the specific skills which are in high demand in France, but another pragmatic way of checking more up-to-date needs is to visit one of the many websites listing vacancies in French companies.

 Useful links:

Skills shortages in the European Union (Overview)
Skills forecast for France
Information on the French labour market

The nitty gritty of looking for a job

If you are seeking opportunities from abroad, websites listing vacancies are probably the most efficient of finding and applying for jobs. However, if you come from niche professions, such as management consulting, it would be worthwhile to contact one of the numerous headhunters operating in France. Unlike the many clichés you might have heard, private companies in France are not particularly bureaucratic, and it might also be a good strategy to reach out directly to relevant HR staff. In most cases, you might be able to get away with scant knowledge of French, especially if you work in an international institution or if you have specific skills (e.g. researchers), but most companies will at least require French at a conversational level.

 Useful links:

The Local

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