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Career training France and the UK fail their jobless youth at great peril

A protest against European youth unemployment takes to the streets. The issue has been plaguing much of the continent since the 2008 global economic crisis


Governments, including France and the UK, are failing to prepare young people for the work that awaits them, the head of the world's largest recruitment company will warn leaders meeting in Davos next week. 

"While labour market reports scream with dramatic youth unemployment data, hundreds of employers cry out for employees with the right skills sets. As recruiters, we suffer this shortage every day," Alain Dehaze, who runs Switzerland-based Adecco, says. 

For society, youth unemployment is "a time bomb" far more potent than it was in the past. Today's jobless have access to the internet, which offers them a window on to what they are missing, allows them to communicate and helps to fuel upheavals such as civil unrest and mass economic migration, he says. 

Almost 74m people aged 15-24 were looking for work in 2014, according to the UN's International Labour Organization, which says that youth unemployment "is common to all regions and is occurring despite the trend improvement in educational attainment, thereby fuelling social discontent". 

Mr Dehaze says governments such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands are better at blending formal education, apprenticeships, work and international experience than others. They provide a "match between the education and financial support they provide and the needs of companies". 

Advances in technology, growing globalisation and changes in financial regulations are altering job requirements every few years, sometimes every few months. Companies are responding by putting less emphasis on candidates' formal education and are looking increasingly closely at soft skills, such as languages, the ability to adapt, ambition, empathy and the willingness to try something unfamiliar. 

Today's ideal young job candidate is so far removed from the past that the 52-year-old Mr Dehaze admits he would not now hire his 23-year-old self. 

"You are hiring now more and more on attitude and then developing the skills," he says. He uses the story of his personal assistant to explain. Mr Dehaze first crossed paths with Diana Boscato when she asked him a question at a company town hall meeting in Tokyo. At the microphone the 24-year-old spoke in fluent English. But later she introduced herself personally in French, Mr Dehaze's mother tongue. 

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When Mr Dehaze returned to his desk he found a LinkedIn message from her and a few weeks later she was his PA. What mattered was not so much her German and Japanese literature degree, but her ability to speak five languages, her cultural dexterity, her ease with technology and her general adaptability, he says. 

Even just a few years ago the job of chief executive's PA would have gone to someone twice her age with well-honed skills developed on a narrow path that would have begun at secretarial college. 

"In the past we weren't expected to take a high job immediately," Mr Dehaze says, noting that when he was young his boss's secretary took dictation for an hour each morning, while today he types his own emails (faster than most of his staff) and his assistant deals with his relentless travel schedule and that of his executive committee, which meets in a different world city every six weeks. The job is a stepping stone on which he expects Ms Boscato to stay no longer than a few years. 

Beyond the usual attributes of drive, passion and hard work, Mr Dehaze also stresses the importance of humility. It is a trait not always associated with today's tech-savvy youth. But he says hard work and the ability to accept responsibility "often spring from humility and acknowledgment of one's own flaws; from the awareness that nothing should be taken for granted". 

He saw this particularly while working with 21-year-old Ayumi Kunori, winner of Adecco's annual "CEO for One Month" contest. 

As they travelled through nine countries from Asia to Europe and the US, he realised that her humility was also behind her curiosity and ability to empathise with people of different nationalities and business agendas. 

For him, the experience drove home the importance of having a clear corporate vision and the ability to communicate it clearly to all stakeholders, young and old. 

It provided a "continuous reminder that a strong purpose is the main driver for any successful business, a purpose you can share with trusting youngsters, who might be the age of your kids".

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016


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