Promoting youth integration must be a priority

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French essayist and economist Nicolas Bouzou has a confident view of the future. He believes young people can continue the considerable progress made in recent years. However, this requires everything being done to promote their integration.

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Are you aware of this national youth day initiative? What do you think about it?

No, I wasn’t aware of it, but it’s a great idea insofar as it strengthens young people’s proactive stance. The principal political issue, I feel, is young people. It’s not about being pro-youth or dramatising things, but more about putting positive actions in place such as this youth day! Many people are sceptical about the integration of young people within the professional universe, and only a few people are really working towards such integration. Yet it’s important to undertake proactive actions and prepare the ground for the next generation.

What role do you feel large companies can play in promoting the professional integration of young people?

They already do a lot with regard to work-study programmes and apprenticeships, and that’s genuinely very positive. Furthermore, I think that, compared with other sectors, banks are particularly committed in this respect. They need to be encouraged to follow this route, especially – as has been said many times – this century’s war will be that of recruiting talented staff. The ability to attract young people will thus be decisive, as it represents companies’ competitive advantage. It is precisely initiatives such as national youth day that will enable companies that participate to stand out and establish contact with those who represent the future.

How can we help these young people develop their skills?

They need to be provided with a broad-based training offer. Within a context marked by an acceleration in innovation, teaching must give a very solid skills base (French, foreign languages, maths, general culture, etc.) The company’s role is to then train them in a profession so that they can be rapidly integrated. They will have opportunities to change jobs, particularly as we are in a society of disloyalty. By definition, young people are those who are the most imbued in this “zapping” culture. At the same time, they bring something very positive: the notion of “meaning” in work and politics. They don’t just want to work for work’s sake, but want to do something good. They want to be involved, and I can only see a good side to that.

Do you think there are enough bridges between the youth and corporate universes?

No, but the picture isn’t that bleak because things are moving in the right direction. The education system is a lot more open to the corporate world than it used to be. What does concern me, around the world, is the rise of irrationality and fake news, which are more likely to be shared by young people. It’s a major problem, I believe, because – if people no longer believe in the truth – there can be no public debate, and therefore no democracy.

“Wisdom and insanity of the world that is coming. How can we prepare ourselves? How can we prepare our children?" That’s the title of your latest book. What are your main conclusions?

We’re seeing a creative destruction phenomenon where some jobs are disappearing and others are being created. This is something that is affecting every sector. Tomorrow’s jobs will combine brains (general knowledge), heart (social interaction) and hands (technical know-how). Faced with a labour shortage, all sectors are looking to hire staff. This will force companies to rethink the way they recruit. They’ll need to innovate with regard to human resources, notably by favouring more hybrid teams based on diversity. In some suburbs, young people are facing difficulties, but in reality they know how to do a lot and take initiatives. They just need to be channelled, and companies are structured to do this.

Nicolas Bouzou French essayist and economist

Youth don’t just want to work for work’s sake, but want to do something good. They want to be involved, and I can only see a good side to that. I want to say to young people “get training, become engineers, because we need you to identify solutions, which will in large part be technology-based”.

So, all in all, you seem to be very confident.

Yes. Admittedly young people are often anxious, no doubt partly because of the concerns their parents project onto them, but we have to remain level-headed. The world we are leaving to our children is more prosperous than ever. Extreme poverty has never been so low, our fellow citizens’ state of health has never been so good or access to food so extensive. As for wars, they are extremely confined compared to those experienced by my own parents’ generation, who faced ruin and rubble after the war. I’m not minimising the tensions that currently exist in the world, but although they are very serious they are also highly localised. In my opinion, the main problems are radical Islamic terrorism and climate change. Regarding the latter, I want to say to young people “rather than capitulating, get training, become engineers, because we need you to identify solutions, which will in large part be technology-based”.

Is this issue of youth integration a French issue or a global one?

It’s an issue everywhere around the world. However, English-speaking countries have, for example, been able to structure themselves to recruit atypical profiles. In those countries, companies don’t hesitate to look for historians and target recruitment that is more heterogeneous from a social standpoint. In Switzerland, 80% of young people do apprenticeships and finish their studies within a company. The same is true in Austria. As for dropouts, they are placed in educational workshops financed by the State, which is very effective in terms of favouring integration. These are models that give you faith in the future because they put young people at the forefront of concerns!

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