Is multi-skilling a hindrance in French business?

I consider myself to be an “involuntary” consultant, as this is the status I’ve acquired since 2010 in France. I also consider myself to be a “multi-task” specialist in my field of activity: marketing, sales, brand development, destination strategies & teaching in the wine, food & perfume sectors.

But what I think is an asset in the English-speaking world of business seems to be considered as a hindrance in French business. When presenting my CV over the last few years, many recruitment agencies here have qualified it as “very interesting” and “atypical”  or even “highly niche”…! But it doesn’t fit into the criteria we are looking for. OK you may say “he just doesnt’ have the profil, period”. That’s true, but when I have submitted my CV for a job, it really is because the job profile fits my experience like a glove. The problem is, for every job available, there are hundreds of applicants. This is not just a French problem, but a universal one and the more you are out of the “employee” frame, the harder it is to get back in…You need to earn money, so you become a freelance consultant which, on a CV, doesn’t help your chances. “He’s a consultant, so either he doesnt’ really need the work, or he is unstable…”

France still believes itself to be an industrial power, which indeed it is. The country excels in engineering, energy, automobile, pharmaceutical, luxury goods…and believes it has and needs highly skilled workers. If you go back to “taylorism” in the 19th century, the idea of production efficiency methodology is not conducive to maintaining a highly skilled (and therefore expensive) labor force. That was the whole idea behind this method, reduce skills by simplifying the task. Even to this day, the power of French unions is prevalent with their aim being to protect their workers even to the detriment of the company’s existence. The recent example of Desseilles Lace in Calais (the oldest Lace manufacturer in France – 03/2016) going into liquidation after having been forced by law to reinstate 5 workers out of 9, made redundant in 2013 to save the company from bankruptcy is a prime example. The unions battled hard to win the court case for the 5 former workers (who happened to be union representatives!), against all good sense. The cost of re-instating them (1 million euros) is too much for the company to incur and its existence as well as the future of its 74 employees is in the balance. Fortunately the Chinese are here to help bail the company out!

This is a prime example of French skilled labor and union power. French industry in general doesn’t accept “multi-taskers”, unless you are lucky to come across an oped-minded, “international” entrepreneur. On paper, it may be seen as an asset, but in reality it just doesn’t work. French companies prefer fixed-term contracts or internships, as they pay less employee charges.

France hasn’t created any jobs for the last decade and has a national debt in GDP terms of 96.9%. We are seeing a rise in a new body of independent workers: “les auto-entrepreneur” or “1099ers” as they say in the USA. There were 490,000 auto entrepreneurs in 2013, but were nearer 1 million in 2015. This company status is less expensive and has less administration red tape than normal companies, but there is a revenue cap – 33,000€/year. What was seen as a solution to earning a bit of extra cash on top of your salary has become the salary itself…

But we are in France and if a company status is too successful, then its gets severe criticism from established industry heads and unions (disloyal to normal business practice etc). As a result, government politicians get the jitters and add some new company laws, some extra taxes and all of a sudden we are seeing a decrease in “auto entrepreneurs” (-18% in 2015). The auto entrepreneur status was a lifebelt to many “mutli-taskers” who could produce an invoice to companies reluctant to employ. In France, the employee is protected and the employer shackled. The current government is trying to amend an old labor law, which will enable companies to make employees redundant more easily. But the French, solidly backed by the UNIONS are on the streets to claim their rights. Over 1 million French have signed a petition to stop the amendment…quite a few of which are students who are not even on the work market as yet. I believe the government will back-peddle in a short while as usual and the SYSTEM won’t see any changes. France is a country that has so much potential, but lacks the courage to make necessary reforms. But unfortunately, as a result of this inertia, France is slowly becoming an industrial museum.

So, from one “involuntary” consultant what advice can I give those struggling as a “multi-tasking” consultant in the French market? The best bet is to go international or get a job in the public sector!



About stephenliney

Providing insider access to both Burgundy wines, winemakers and bespoke wine experiences
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