’No one is unemployable’: the French social experiment
More than 13 million people are unemployed in the EU, 5.3 million of them for more than a year.
Underlying these figures is often the misconception that these workers lack education or training, or that it is too costly to invest public money in lifting them out of their situation.
Nothing could be further from the truth, according to the French project Zero Unemployment Territories (TZCLD), an initiative that has been up-and-running since 2016 and is already active in over 50 zones in the country.
"People want to work, but they can’t find the right job because the conditions are not adapted to their situation," Jeanne Bot, head of advocacy and community development, told EUobserver.
The project is based on the premise that no one is "unemployable", and seeks solutions that create jobs locally where there are social or environmental needs.
For example, if someone has carpentry skills, a position is created to allow them to use that expertise. If another person knows how to cook, a social canteen is opened to employ different profiles related to this activity.
It is a bottom-up initiative, explains Yonec Polet, a member of the Socialists & Democrats in the European Committee of the Regions, to EUobserver. "It integrates everyone, from associations, unions or local and regional authorities, to citizens themselves".
The key to the initiative lies in local management, which has an understanding of the needs of each area: "There is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution", said Polet.
So far, the results of the French social experiment have been very positive, according to its managers, who hope that by June 2024 there will be a total of 100 member areas.
"Such initiatives have real potential", commented the socialist MEP Agnes Jongeirus. "Zero long-term unemployment zones are a way to bring back people to work, in quality employment, based on their skills, for the benefits of the community."
In France, 52 companies have already joined the project, which since its beginning has managed to lift nearly 3,000 people (with an average age 46) out of long-term unemployment.
This is not just a "French idea", says the manager of the project, who is now working on exporting this model so that it can become a universal guarantee for everyone who wants to work.
TZCLD is in talks with the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions, but also with local actors in the EU, and with other international stakeholders such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations (UN), to name a few.
Where will the funds come from?
Since the 2016 council recommendation, there has been no initiative to fight long-term unemployment, says Polet’s own opinion issued at the committee of the regions.
The French proposal is to redirect public spending on the cost of an unemployed person to create jobs where there is a demand.
The European debate focuses on a programme called ‘job guarantee’, which — under the principles described above — would serve as a framework for a pan-European boost with additional funds so that no region is left behind.
One mechanism could be to make the Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE) instrument permanent, notes a policy brief by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS).
Funding cannot be an excuse. "Unemployment is costly and produces no social or economic benefits", says Socialist MEP Aurore Lalucq in the same report.
According to a study by the European Federation for Services to Individuals (EFSI), spending per unemployed person is around €18,000-€33,000 depending on the European country. A figure similar to that of living wages in these countries.
But the cost is also psychological and social, and the challenge is democratic, says Polet. "We have to show these persons they are not forgotten, and public services and their communities are really thinking about them".