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French Careers

September 21, 2010

Does anyone else find the French “system” (I’m not sure if that’s the right word as it’s more a collection of systems for each profession) hopelessly rigid?

When I first came here (to Brittany) with a view to moving here in the near future, I was impressed on looking at employment agency windows and seeing that they called for employees of all sorts of different specialisms. “Isn’t that great”, I thought, “Instead of being just “workers”, each person belongs to their profession and can take pride in it!” How I was missing the point….

OK, I’m a white-coller worker, a buyer, by training and experience, in the UK, so what would I know about artisans’ professions – but nonetheless, I’m dismayed to find that there’s NO CHANCE at all of getting into any job without full training as far as I can see. Where in the UK it’s often possible, while not yet retrained, to get a job somewhere in your new chosen line of work, if not near the top of it, but close enough to see what it’s about, in France it’s just not so. You have to have the diploma, or “formation” as they call it, for whatever you want to do, before you start. And this goes for most white-collar work as well.

Careers are more sharply-focussed here in France. I am a fully qualified buyer and VERY LUCKLY this is one of the few specialisms where the formation (qualification) isn’t everything, so there’s no need for me to head back to college to do this kind of job. However, the fact that my 15 yrs’ solid experience has been over several industries isn’t a plus as it would be in the UK, it just makes me difficult to pigeon-hole! But pigeon-hole they have done anyway (at Michael Page, Nantes), as a Services Buyer. I live in rural Brittany, where the only jobs are for buyers are agro-alimentary products and ingredients. Guess what I’ve never bought before….?

I’ve bought IT hardware and software, facilities management, HR Services, negotiated recruitment agency fees (how I’d like to be on the other side of the table from Michael Page Nantes now!) – but also engineering parts and components, electricity and gas (by reverse auction in the middle of an energy crisis)…. and the list goes on….

I’ve gone from highly employable to zip, in 1 ferry trip…. (that wasn’t meant to rhyme!)

The blinkered view of, not only employment agencies, but also a lot of people in my conversations in social situations, speaks, to me, of a cultural difference that sees things, whether careers or just things in general, more heavily segmented. Just look at the education system and how it forces people to choose a career path at a young age, compared to in the UK.

This way of seeing life is also one of the things that’s led me to conclude that in France there’s one best way of doing everything. By this I don’t mean that they consider the French way better than the English, but that, in many things, there’s one accepted, textbook, way of doing something, and all other ideas and explanations are regarded as irrelevant. French people accept rigidity authority more readily in everyday life, which has good and bad consequences.

The negative side is, of course, less creativity (though in other ways the French are marvellously creative). The good side is that professions are thoroughly learned, and so, I expect, their quality of work is likely to be better as a result.

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