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Young people face unwelcoming job market

Stéphanie Clerc would rather be spending her time working

Twenty-year-old Stéphanie Clerc has just finished her apprenticeship but has been forced nevertheless to sign up for unemployment benefit.

The business graduate spoke to swissinfo as a one-day symposium was held in Bern to discuss youth joblessness.

Clerc has everything necessary for success: a diploma, good professional training and a “neat appearance” – as required by the classified adverts.

But there have only been four such adverts since she started looking for work.

“So I sent out unsolicited applications everywhere – 60 or so in total,” said Clerc. “That’s a lot! But nothing has happened. I haven’t been invited to a single interview.”

The only reason Clerc is given whenever her application is returned is “at present we have no vacancies”.

“I think the basic problem is a lack of experience,” says Clerc, who comes from La Chaux-de-Fonds in northwestern Switzerland. “Employers often ask for three years’ experience and, at 20, I’ve only just completed my apprenticeship.”

“That does irritate me a bit: they want people with experience – but how do you get it if no one will give you a chance to prove yourself?”

In Switzerland there are tens of thousands of people in the same boat. Fifteen- to 25-year-olds are proportionally the most affected by unemployment, with 4.7 per cent out of work in 2004 (compared with 3.8 per cent of 25- to 49-year-olds).

Bad start

What’s more, this figure only takes into account those young people who are drawing benefits. Many do not do so “out of embarrassment or ignorance”, explains Jean-Christophe Schwaab, secretary of the youth wing of the largest trade union Unia.

Schwaab says a rate of ten per cent unemployment for 15- to 24-year-olds is nearer the mark. And a further 21,000 people are waiting for an apprenticeship place.

“These are young people who’ve finished their compulsory education and who are either unemployed or in a transitional situation, for example on a language course or a motivation course that shows you various options,” says Schwaab.

“For them, life has already got off to a bad start.”

After her compulsory education Clerc decided to do business studies because she thought it “would open lots of doors”.

So she started looking for an apprenticeship, sent off 120 job applications – “handwritten!” – and received… one interview.

It went well and she was taken on by the property management company.

At the age of 19, Clerc received her business diploma, left home and moved into a small flat.

Her employer extended her contract by six months, but when it expired at the end of February, there was still nothing in sight.

At the beginning of March, she was forced to sign on.

Filling the time

“I force myself to get up quite early,” Clerc explains, “because I need to stay in rhythm in case I find another job tomorrow.”

“Then I have a coffee and read the papers from cover to cover. I go shopping, cook meals, do the housework – but that doesn’t take long!”

“Sometimes the days drag on,” she says. “You have to try to fill the time. When it’s sunny, it’s easier – I go for a walk around the lake. But sometimes people make comments – it’s not malicious, but they say that I’m just enjoying myself.”

Clerc’s boyfriend has also been unemployed for three weeks. “It’s hardly good news, but being together makes it slightly easier.”

New direction

The unemployment centre requires those registered to apply for ten jobs a month. “I always send off 15 or 16 applications,” says Clerc.

“I’m going to carry on until the summer holidays and if nothing’s happened by then, I’ll specialise in something else as I personally couldn’t spend a year on unemployment benefit. I need to be doing something – I need to work!”

To begin with, Clerc turned her search towards the social and public health sector.

“My dream would be to work in an institution providing medical care for old people, a centre for drug addiction or a home for handicapped people.”

To maximise the chances of realising her dream, Clerc has suggested to the unemployment office that she sign up for a Red Cross course, which would lead to an auxiliary health certificate.

“The course begins in August,” she says. “My adviser has told me that in the meantime I will have definitely found something in my sector and that unemployment benefit isn’t really there to finance training courses – especially if there aren’t any prospects.”

“I left that meeting pretty demoralised,” the business graduate says. “But I’ll persevere, even if I occasionally feel alone.”

And she continues to apply for jobs. “I haven’t got any choice – I’m 20 years old and have my whole life in front of me. I have to find a job, and above all one I like.”

swissinfo, Alexandra Richard

In Switzerland young people are proportionally most affected by unemployment.
In 2004, 4.7% of 15- to 24-year-olds (28,310 people) were out of work (compared with 3.8% of 25- to 49-year-olds).
Unions say almost half of them do not sign up for unemployment benefit.
They estimate an unemployment rate of almost 10% for 15- to 24-year-olds.
21,000 people are waiting for an apprenticeship place.

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