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  • Linda Labidi

David Beaurepaire, Managing Director of HelloWork: "Seniors have a card to play in the job market".

The heated debates surrounding pension reform have reopened the question of employment for seniors. Retire later, yes, but what about their employability? While we can congratulate ourselves on the almost complete abandonment of schemes to support early retirement, French companies still seem reluctant to take advantage of this opportunity.

What is your assessment of the employment situation in France today?

Before the Covid-19 crisis, we had a fairly strong employment dynamic with a fairly substantial upturn in recruitment. As a result, the unemployment rate had even fallen to 7%. If we disregard the very specific period of this health crisis, we have a satisfactory dynamic.

What has changed over the last ten years?

We are seeing greater job mobility. Employees are changing jobs more regularly. The main reason for this is the rise in the cost of living, which encourages employees to challenge themselves more in the marketplace. We are also seeing greater geographical mobility, encouraged by teleworking, not to mention the new digital nomads.

What about seniors?

In France, we have deficits with young people and seniors. Our employment rate is very high, but it is at the median age of 25-45. On the other hand, at the extremes, our activity rate is much lower than that of our German neighbours, who perform better in the 18-64 age group.

How do private and public players plan to tackle these problems?

On the public side, the emphasis is on training to rehabilitate people who are excluded from or far from employment. In the private sector, in the medium term, recruiters are forced to turn to profiles with fewer or no qualifications, or even so-called senior profiles.

The employability of seniors will therefore inevitably be boosted by the shortage of skills on the market. This is already happening in very tight sectors such as IT, cybersecurity and so on. Seniors aged 50 and over, who have the skills or are willing to undergo training, can find work more easily today.

Added to this are other challenges for fast-growing start-ups. They need to 'seniorise' their teams as part of a consolidation drive. This need is also observed among young start-ups facing decisive or crisis stages. They need to bring together people who have already been through this type of experience.

At what age are you considered to be a senior employee in a company?

Opinions differ on this subject. From my point of view, we can talk about seniority from 5 years of experience or more in a position. More generally, I would say that we are considered to be senior employees in a company from the age of 50.

Anglo-Saxon countries don't approach seniority within companies in the same way. Would you say that this is primarily a cultural issue?

We are culturally different when it comes to these issues, but this difference stems from past reforms that penalised companies that wanted to let go of senior employees. This legacy has left its mark on recruiters who, by reflex, continue to avoid the working population close to this age bracket.

Remuneration is one of the main obstacles to hiring senior staff. Does a senior employee really cost the company more than the expertise he or she brings?

This is indeed a miscalculation and a caricature of the senior employee as being less attractive because they are more expensive. Having said that, there is one reality that cannot be denied when it comes to the employability of seniors, and that is the arduous nature of the work and the difficulty of carrying out certain tasks. This is a factor that recruiters need to anticipate. Conversely, young people have been found to have a higher rate of absenteeism. That's why I think it's in companies' interests to draw on a diversity of profiles.

The economist Jeremy Rifkin predicted the gradual disappearance of the salaried worker, with the marginalisation of self-employed contracts. Senior citizens, excluded from the labour market, seem to be leading the way in this direction. What is your opinion on the subject?

I don't share Jeremy Rifkin's view. I don't believe in the abandonment of salaried employment in France. On the other hand, I do see a diversification of contracts and statuses, with French people moving from employee status to self-employed status or, alternately, employee and self-employed. That said, it's true that senior citizens are more likely to be self-employed. This is sometimes forced by early retirement, but it can also be preferred at an age when some senior profiles aspire to choose their life and their constraints.

What about HelloWork?

We currently have 50 open positions. We may have the best tools on the market, but we're still faced with the same job shortages, which is why everyone is welcome here!

A final word?

In an increasingly tight labour market, solutions will have to be found. Germany has chosen to reduce immigration restrictions on its territory. The labour shortage is such that we have had to legislate to facilitate the integration of qualified workers. We know that the issue will be more explosive in France but, faced with an ageing population, do we have a choice? It is in this sense that senior citizens have a card to play. The balance of power has shifted, and what was true yesterday will not be true tomorrow.

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