The French labour market
Updated 2019-08-15 08:48

Clichés abound when it comes to the French labour market. For some, working in France means perpetual strikes, long lunches fueled by good wine, and an early 5 pm finish. The truth, of course, lies somewhere amid the misconceptions. France is home to some of the foremost companies in the world and workers do indeed enjoy an enviable work-life balance. However, unemployment is high and - as is the case anywhere in the world - getting that perfect job can be a challenge. 

Structural labour issues in France

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 electoral manifestos. In 2016, the government pushed through reforms to energise the labour market but were faced with stiff resistance from the country's labour 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 in France

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 and international companies operating in France frequently recruit highly skilled workers either from Europe or internationally. International recruiting is so important that specific visa schemes have been set up to facilitate the administrative procedures associated with sourcing talent globally.

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 midwives, 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 is in the legal sector. 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.

Looking for a job in France

If you are seeking opportunities from abroad, websites listing vacancies are probably the most efficient way to find and apply for jobs. However, if you come from niche professions, such as management consulting, it would be worthwhile contacting one of the numerous headhunters operating in France. Despite their reputation, 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
Skills shortages in the European Union (Overview)
Skills forecast for France
Information on the French labour market

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