le 13 janvier 2021
Unemployment is tackled through upskilling, region by region

[Click here to read the French version]

The potential impact of Covid-19 on employment is dizzying. 815,000 jobs were lost in the first six months of 2020, and the unemployment rate could flirt with 11% in 2021. This fact is chilling, and the shockwaves violent. And yet, every day, all over the country, businesses are struggling to recruit the talent they need. This paradox is nothing new. It has been repeatedly documented, criticised and analysed. But the crisis we are going through makes it even more incomprehensible.

The mismatch between jobseekers’s skills and the needs of businesses is a highly complex issue. Although the issue may appear to be global, it is in fact very local. To tackle unemployment effectively, you need to focus on a radius of 50 kilometres. Moreover, the skills being sought are also a shifting reality. In any labour pool, all it takes is for one company to close down or for another to start up to radically change expectations in terms of know-how.

New training approach

The equation is quite simple: to match job offers from companies with the skills and aspirations of individuals, training is very often required. Designing a national training strategy is essential, however, the fight against unemployment becomes even more effective when it is implemented on an per labour-pool basis.

The crisis we are going through needs to be seen as an opportunity. An opportunity to thoroughly review our approach to training. An opportunity to move away from a centralist approach to developing skills towards a more pragmatic one. An opportunity to put the individual and the business back at the centre.

As such, in addition to the need to adapt policy to the needs of each region, the entire approach to training in France needs to be reviewed. The government has made this a priority and is being generous with its funds in order to help jobseekers to consider new career paths. This is an opportunity. But the mechanics could be more effective. French culture says that one needs to train for a profession. This is easier to implement because it’s more standardised, but it overlooks the numerous skills acquired by an individual throughout their lifetime. The profession-based approach to training needs to be replaced by a skills-based approach. This vision has a triple benefit: for job seekers, for businesses and for public finances. More pragmatic and effective, it makes its possible to optimise upskilling and a quicker return to employment, all for significantly lower training costs.

National reference system

This change in perspective implies two things. First of all, creating a common, national, sufficiently exhaustive reference framework so that each profession and any changes within it can be broken down according to the technical and behavioural skills they require. Then, supporting this culture change within businesses so that they no longer look for a maintenance technician, but for a candidate with a strong background in mechanics and electrical systems, with good listening skills and team spirit. This change is beginning to take shape. The Randstad Group trains 35,000 people every year, 4,000 of whom are trained in bespoke courses lasting several months and which are suited to the specific needs and circumstances of each client. Businesses are increasingly looking for candidates suited to the realities of the job. This is where a detailed approach to training, region by region, takes on its full meaning. Each and every day we prove that this works. Now it has to be scaled up.

Identifying and assessing the skills of each individual will make it possible to set up local training plans, adapted to the realities of each labour pool. And above all, it activates two strategies based on the real needs of the local economy: upskilling and reskilling. The first consists in providing additional training for those who already have a basic skillset to accelerate career transfers. Some professions which can appear different on paper, nevertheless use similar skills. The second is more ambitious in that training starts from scratch, particularly in order to adapt to a new profession. This is particularly useful, for example, in regions where automobile production is prevalent, where the transition to the low-carbon vehicles is having a profound impact on jobs.

I know we share this vision with certain public and private players in the field of employment and training. Pôle Emploi, in particular, regularly refers to it. But while I am certain that this skills-based approach is extremely effective, it cannot succeed if forces are scattered. We have our own tools for analysing labour pools. We have already established our own competency framework. As stakeholders in this area, we collaborate with businesses and talents and know their needs and aspirations. So do others. But our strike force is too diluted. We must overcome our internal squabbling : it is together that we must act.

The transformation of professions is being amplified by this crisis and is making this cultural revolution even more urgent. It must force us to take action. Beyond reducing the unemployment rate, our collective capacity to create value and transform our economy will enable us to meet the challenges of the coming years.

Frank Ribuot

President, Groupe Randstad France

Tribune initially published in Les Echos on December 31, 2020.