Innovation and partnership
Isabelle Eynaud-Chevalier, managing director of Prism’emploi, representing the French recruitment and temporary employment industry discusses France’s labour market.
Q: What are the main challenges and opportunities currently facing the French labour market?
A: The temporary employment market in France has faced a range of challenges. The impact of Covid across the different economic sectors has not been equal. Some sectors – such as cafes, hotels and restaurants – stopped operating completely; others – airline related industries and aeronautics – recorded very sharp declines and still others – including e-commerce, logistics and transport – have enjoyed a significant boost in activity.
This disparity goes hand in hand with a diversity in the fortunes of different skills sets. Those sectors that see their activities picking up again in the medium-term have held on to their specialist skills in order to retain a strategic advantage. For example, some employees in the civil aeronautics sector have been redeployed in military aeronautics roles.
The lack of general visibility and weak economic growth has weighed heavily on the performance of players in the temporary employment industry. There is a direct correlation between our sector and economic growth and low growth is detrimental to the dynamism of the whole industry. France recorded very weak positive growth in the first two quarters of 2021 (0.1% and 0.24% respectively) and forecasters agree that the underlying conditions for an economic recovery will only be met in the second half of this year.
Despite these immediate economic challenges, there is nevertheless an ongoing shortage of skilled labour in France. The situation is particularly acute in the construction industry and in the logistics and medical/social care sectors. The need to support work transitions by sector and also by geography in order to minimise the skills shortage is not new but is becoming increasingly important.
Another element that brings uncertainty is the fact that many employees have had their roles suspended and their salaries partly supported by the state – a situation known as short time work. Some economists believe that businesses have been saved from going under by the substantial public aid packages that have been provided, but these will now gradually be withdrawn following dialogue with the social partners.
The public health crisis has hastened the digital transition in the French market and accelerated new ways of both consuming and working. Teleworking has become the norm in many businesses that would previously never have entertained the idea.
Q: How do you see the industry’s role evolving in both the short and longer term? What is the outlook for flexible staffing?
A: Having a flexible workforce is an economic necessity for today’s businesses. As the economy gradually gets back on its feet, Prism’emploi would like to see more flexible ways of using temporary work. Together with the trade unions we have called on our government to create a special Covid measure that will authorise companies to employ temporary workers. Our request is particularly relevant for open-ended temporary work contracts which are currently subject to the same restrictive conditions as short-term contracts even though they are for a long period. During the crisis, these open-ended temporary work contracts (known as CDII) held up well, including short time work – in part due to support measures. We believe that this support mechanism is still valid – especially since the French government has not lost its interest in taxing short term contracts.
At Prism’emploi we support a vision of responsible flexibility and as such we have warned on several occasions about the abuses of certain digital platforms. Some of these platforms create a relationship between the worker and the organisation that is effectively an employee status and should be treated as such. We are concerned about the illegal forms of work that develop as a result of new technologies and are following the evolution of case law in France and Europe with great interest. The uberisation of work must not come at the expense of social rights. Work is not a commodity and if it is not accompanied by social rights then the overall social balance will be weakened. Indeed, the current health crisis has served to underline the effectiveness of the protective model.
Q: WEC is promoting social innovation as a way to accommodate new challenges. What does this mean in your market? Has that changed with the Covid crisis?
A: In France, the temporary work sector is well established and offers a number of social innovations. In particular, the dedicated training fund (AKTO – FAF-TT network) which was created in 1983 and the social assistance fund (FASTT) founded in 1992. During 2020, employment agencies continued to invest in training although the volumes were less due to the market decline. It’s worth noting that in 2019, the year before the health crisis, temporary employment agencies invested €500 million euros to finance 350,000 training courses. The sector invests 3.35% of the wages it earns in training and apprenticeships.
In 2020, as the Covid crisis weakened the employment sector, the temporary work sector and its social partners established a system for forecasting work and skills. Known as GPEC, its role is to provide a strategic vision of the jobs and skills that will be needed in the years ahead. With it our sector will be better able to adapt its systems to meet the future needs of the regions and sectors it serves.
This approach aims to analyse and anticipate foreseeable changes in jobs, qualifications and skills as a result of the health crisis. It will allow us to map the skills of temporary workers and identify where the gaps lie so as to develop an action plan – particularly with relation to training. The GPEC approach is especially intended for those working in jobs and sectors that are in decline. Studies undertaken by the Interim and Recruitment Observatory are currently delivering their first results.
In addition to social security, employees in the temporary agency work sector benefit from specific social protections that include free health insurance for them and their families (after having worked 414 hours) which also covers them during periods of unemployment. FASTT also offers support in areas such as housing, access to credit, mobility and childcare so as to remove any obstacles to entering the labour market. These services were in high demand during the Covid crisis.
Q: What actions are you taking to support your members, their client companies and workers to lead in the new normal?
A: At Prism’emploi we continue to support our members by defending the interests of the sector – particularly towards public authorities. In May 2020 we signed a national agreement with the main public body serving job seekers, Pôle emploi, to facilitate exchanges between our two organisations. Through the agreement we aim to: support temporary workers and job seekers in returning to work and secure their careers; work to reduce skills shortages; and develop geographic synergies between our respective networks.
This public/private partnership represents an innovative approach designed to drive up labour market participation. By combining the strengths of our two organisations we can work together in creating recruitment opportunities such as forums and job dating and strengthen the monitoring of job seekers. In particular, the joint approach creates something of a mentoring system where temporary workers introduce job seekers to opportunities in sectors that are in high demand.
The role of the temporary employment sector in supporting work transitions also highlights the potential for our sector to play a part in matching workers with work in the wider economy. Meanwhile, Prism’emploi continues to provide its members with a comprehensive range of services – adapting training, offering high-quality legal support, publishing information on legal and social developments and analysing the economic situation in order to be prepared for the future.