FRANCE: Graduates face under-paid internships

Anaïs graduated this summer with a master's degree in European studies. But, like many young people in France, she was unable to find a job related to her qualifications.

So she did what thousands of other graduates seeking employment do – signed on for a further university course, one she would not attend. With student status she could take up a work placement in a French organisation specialising in the European Union.

“As well as nine permanent staff, there are five of us interns all with master’s degrees doing placements of between three and six months,” says Anaïs who earns €376 (US$526) a month, a third of the minimum wage.

This is not unusual and it has become a necessary rite of passage between university and a job for most graduates. It is also a way for employers to avoid paying high social charges and having to adhere to tough labour laws, which are often blamed for France’s youth unemployment rate of 21.6% – one of Europe’s highest.

Research shows that while graduates fare better in the job market than their age group overall, more than one in 10 have difficulty finding employment.

The most recent findings of a three-yearly inquiry by the Centre of Studies and Research on Qualifications (Céreq) traced the employment situation in 2004 of a sample of 25,000 young people who had left all levels of education in 2001. On average, 11% of those with a degree were unemployed, nearly twice the rate of the previous sample who graduated in 1998 and were surveyed after three years.

Céreq said the higher unemployment of the later generation reflected the deteriorating economic situation in 2004.

Success in finding work varied widely depending on graduates’ studies, with those who had followed certain professionally focused courses doing best. Only 2% who had trained as health and social workers were unemployed, and those in work earned as much as business school graduates whose jobless rate was 13%.

The study found that graduates who had qualified with a new vocational bachelor’s degree equivalent had achieved “more stable employment by March 2004 and higher pay than those with general degrees”.

More information on the Céreq site