Youth Unemployment

I have a 16 year old son, educated here since age 11, who's been totally distraught about his prospects recently. He left Lycee after a year of doing a Bac Pro Electrotech. He'd chosen this Bac because his friends were doing the same and because he couldn't think of anything else he was interested in. I know...we did warn him.

By christmas, he'd had enough of sitting in a classroom and was desperate to get a taste of practical experience at what he called "just *0#~@%!! doing something" and although he just scraped through the first year with enough of a note to be offered a place on the premiere level of the 3 year course, it was plain to see, he'd had more than he could stomach of the French school system. It was also plain he'd chosen a subject that didn't interest him.

He was miserable. He continually complained about it being too classroom based and often compared it with his 5 months experience at a UK school aged 12, where he said he felt engaged, interested and valued instead of bullied, pillaried and bored.

His 4 years experience here at college didn't set him up well at all . He was mercilessly picked on by a local gang of travellers and after I complained of racism, and inaction from the headmaster, M. Entrialgo, he admitted to me that he purposely treated foreigners differently/more harshly , he argued "because they are foreigners. They need to become tougher". What a load of old crap. I felt it was a pointless argument. I couldn't express myself clearly enough to argue with him and he held all the power. We'd pinned our hopes on the Lycee being a bit more interesting.

My son was also desperate to have a list of additional subjects to choose from, with more practical applications and creative, theatre, music, sport etc..which seems totally unavailable here as part of a school curiculum. It certainly wasn't there at College Gerard Phillip Chauvigny.

He's been desperate to "go home" and, I have to say, so have I...if only we could afford to move I think we probably would have done.

We've lived near Chauvigny for about 5 years now and a large portion (about half, I'd say) of those times have been fraught with self-doubt, uncomfortable living conditions and financial worries. Now thankfully alleviated due to Allocation Lodgement. La Crise hasn't been at all kind to us, culminating 18 months ago, in me loosing my UK home, a good temporary UK job and a car all in one week, therby going as mad as a box of frogs and ending up needing hospital care in the UK for 5 weeks instead.

For me as a mental health professional, this would have been a very interesting experience... if I'd been reading about how it had happened to someone else.

Since then my lad has struggled on through desperate times. Whilst I recovered, and built my career as a renovator back from ashes, he languished at Lycee.

Becoming more and more bored, finding excitement smoking and drinking behind the bike sheds, getting suspended and caught by the gendarmes trying to steal some rum with a friend and finishing by declaring he was finished with school and had wasted a whole year of his life. He was "useless and he wasn't ever going to find a real job. What was the point? There's nothing going. Everyone says so". He felt he'd be better off in England and he just wanted to go to a "proper" school all along, where he could relax and speak English again.

Perhaps he was right. I felt so bad that we'd dragged him across here, just before a recession, to become trapped in a foreign land with no prospects. I made him go to a totally foreign school with no knowledge of French, a useless Principal and virtually no knowledge of the culture. I expected him to live in a cold, tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere while we struggled to find work in an increasing hostile marketplace. When 2 years ago, we finally gave in and admitted defeat, asked for benefits and found a nice warm flat in town with running water it was a huge, welcomed relief. I had hoped that this might be enough to boost my lad into enthusiasm for some sort of metier. On reflection I think this was expecting a bit much, too soon.

The summer's been a worrying time. My lad's watched his friends go back to Lycee or work and met lots who are on the dole. He's continued to feel desperate and hopeless and he's missed going back to the UK for a visit. It's all started to seem, even to my optimists eye, as if the French "apprentissage" system is a bit of a sham..offering placements to those lucky few who know someone in the trade or who have the highest notes from lycee.Things continued to drag on.

His brother visited us for a few days, and at the start of October, the french Mission Locale found him a placement on a small local scheme to help les Jeunes find their metier. He started enthusiastically enough but then quickly realised he wasn't eligable for any of the promised benefits, being still only 16 and not the obligatory 18. Plus, he'd not been unemployed for 12 months yet..He made noises about it being a waste of time. Just a way to fill in time until the 12 months unemployment made him eligable for more help.

'oh bugger', I thought, 'it's all going to stay pear-shaped'.

Then the people on the course gave their 'trainees' an ultimatum. He had to find a 2 week "stage" (work experience) doing anything. For free. A week's break then another stage. He chose to go to a local restaurant and found a second stage at another, slightly more "cordonbleu" place. I thought it was genius. He rather enjoyed himself. He loves's his favourite hobby next to music. His brother's a chef at Carluccios in Norwich. The 2 weeks of activity were excactly what we'd been hoping for..a taste of real daily task-fulfilment. Achievement on a plate. he started talking about finding other stages. A slight set-back came when he thought he'd get no help for transport but we told him to ask and the result was positive.

On Thursday he came bursting in and announced he had an interview in Poitiers for a restaurant looking for an apprentice.

On Friday I took him to meet the owner and he was offered the place. Excited but daunted by the need to find him lodgement we then struggled through an afternoon of semi-desperate searching for help.

The Maison de Formation,(his future employers) had not one jot of useful advice about how any 16 year old might find accommodation in their city to do their apprenticship. We were given the classic runaround...

Advisor at maison de formation. " go to the mairie, they will help"

Receptionist at maire "sorry I don't know why you've been sent here, try the Regional offices"

Regional Offices "sorry we don't have anything to do with accommodation, I don't understand why you've been sent here"

Mother intervenes..nice receptionist at Regional office offers to ring poitiers Mission Locale and explain why we're here. No luck.Son wants to give in or punch someone. He becomes desperately upset and beleives he's going to be unemployed forever.

Mother intervenes again, we drive to mission locale Poitiers and explain face-to face, ask for use of telephone to contact mission local Chauvigny... Everyone's gone home for a weeks holiday (3.30pm)leaving nice, but impotent receptionist.

On the way out of Mission locale, with glum expressions, a nice lady near the desk asks if everything OK. Mother says 'non, pas vraiment' and son attempts embarrassed exit. Mother stops him and says 'don't be in a hurry to turn down any offer of help..don't give up' Nice lady explains about the office "Centre des Information pour Jeunes in Poitiers" and we dash round to receive best advice yet. He will be eligable for Aide lodgement and we can go monday to ask CAF for forms and see a concierge on a huge housing estate.

Saturday arrives and I drive him back to the restaurant in the evening for a trial shift. The restaurant is gorgeous. It's inside a cave of an historic munument underneath a new building.

While he does this I walk down the street and I think 'I know, I'll spend my time trying to find a local studi for rent' 10 metres along the road, I spot a notice saying "chambre, studio T1" I knock and I meet the nicest landlady, who has a CAF registered studio flat, empty and ready to move in and another room ready on 9th Nov.. I buy a newspaper and spot another studio, further away but possibly cheaper.

Tomorrow is monday. We're going to speak, face-to-face to the CAF and to negotiate with the lovely landlady. Then if he can't afford the rent we can offer we'll find another place that we can afford. We're taking our bikes so we can cover more ground if needs be.

I'm so happy. I think things are finally working out for my son and it's so good to see him being enthusiastic about something. It's such a relief. He's going to be training with a group of nice people running a well-esthablished, award-winning restaurant in the middle of a beautiful french city. When he's done, he'll have a diploma and the ability to work anywhere he choses. He can already speak 2 languages and he's managed to pull himself through an unfriendly, underfunded (apparently) foreign school system without needing to repeat any of his school years.

He's still only 16 and he'll need a lot of support. I think he'll be a bit out of his depth at times, so far from us, in a city environment and alone, but I'm planning to move us all nearby as soon as it's practical.

This is a whole new chapter in our French life and I'm still glad we came. I'm not giving up herefor several reasons. Mainly, because I cant afford to go anywhere else but secondly even if I suddenly had the resources, I think I'd choose to stay because we've worked so hard through such a difficult time. We're still here and we still have a lot to offer.

In fact the longer we stick it out, the more we seem to have to offer. We can help other people through the same stuff.

So, if there are any other desperate anglo-french teenage jo-seekers out there, I just want to say to you please don't give up, and try not to feel as if the UK has all the answers. When things go wrong it's very easy to imagine life being better over there, but I can't honestly say that it was for us. I think France is not necessarily a better place to live with, all the answers, but it's not a bad place and there's an awful lot to choose from. There is no magic wand but there is grim determination and hard graft. Above all, keep asking for help and consider all advice.

I also just want to say to my boy, well done and good luck with your new job. I can't wait to visit you in your new studio for the first cuppa tea. I'm packing a box up ready.

If anyone fancies a high quality restaurant experience in Poitiers you could try my son's's a 10min walk from the Hotel de ville. There followed a link to my son's new restaurant workplace."Restaurant ********** "

Read on for the rest of my blog about what happened next..............

HERE IS part 2 .........................

Christina, please wait for me to update everyone in part 3! I don't want you you panic after part 2.....oh dear it sounds as if you are where we were last November. I find it helps to always bear in mind that they (despondent youth) can change radically with the weather. I just kept repeating the message " I'm here to help you, just ask me when you decide you can't cope and we'll try to do something". It's still only May so lots of summer jobs still open for grabs, especially to bilingual young people. I know the campsites all need extra help along the coast. A friend of mine made a quite good living from this until he took a tefal course and is now a university lecturer in China!

Hi Jo

Nice to hear your story which has touched me intimately. I am so glad that there are success stories out there as I am sinking fast with mine.

I am the mother of an 18 yr old son who was moved here when he was 10 from Canada. He has always been bilingual however and has never lived in UK - Canada is his Mecca where everything is bright and shiny and so much better than here.

After totally refusing to study for and try and get his brevet at College, he wanted to become a tiler thru apprenticeship. Unfortunately the company for whom he had a place after a stage went bust without telling us so it was too late to find another company in time - they had all filled their apprentice places. I persuaded him to try plastering but even they were full. By default he went therefore to a Professional Lycée to study metal work as one of his mates was there and it seemed like something to put down on his form at the time.

He has always hated school, doesn't believe in his abilities and is too scared to try for things in case he fails hence not getting his brevet. He admitted that he preferred to know he was going to fail beforehand than trying and waiting to see. What heartbreaking logic!

After 1 1/2yrs of his Bac Pro he decided he had had enough. He was persuaded to give it a go to get his intermediate CAP diploma as I told him that the principal had told me in confidence that he would be able to find work with this. I let on as I could see he had totally given up. This spurred him on to actually try a minimum and he succeeded! And my mum offered him some cash if he succeeded (against the grain that one and I took some time about telling him but if it would work...)

However, he realised that he would not be able to work in his industry before he was 18 due to insurance issues. So back to school for his 3rd and final year. But by the time he got to January he had totally given up working or attending class. He seriously did not believe that he could get his exam in the summer despite his teachers all telling him that he was more than capable he just had to do the work. He was no longer interested in working in the subject as it was factory based which drove him crazy even though his teachers told him he was a natural and was talented. But no, he got behind and then it was too late to catch up with his coursework. So I let him drop out of school when he turned 18. I never believed that he would stay in school so long but thought it a real shame to give up with just a few months left. With a Bac Pro, it would give him entry into whatever college he wanted when later he had decided what he wanted to do. But nothing doing, you can lead a horse to water...

Since then, he has tried to find a job thru the local Mission de Jeunesse who found him a place but the company wanted him to go back to school to get his woodworking diploma - so that was out of the question. Since then he has gone to a few temping agencies as he doesn't want a full time long term contract. He has not worked a day since leaving school. I was going to take him and his girlfriend to the coast to look for summer work but there was always something and now she has measles so we still haven't gone and he doesn't even have a summer job despite living in the Dordogne and being perfectly bilingual - they wanted to get out of the region for the summer...

I tear my hair out and don't know what to do any more. He hasn't signed on as I didn't tell him about it as I didn't want him to get used to being paid for doing nothing but now I really don't know what to do. I don't know the system here or how to help him help himself. I have a very consuming job into which I put a lot of hours and energy and manage to earn enough to keep us as a family as I get no child support. Plus I have just broken up with my long term unemployed boyfriend so am feeling rather overwhelmed.

Wish I could give the successful ending to this story but really don't know what will happen....


Perhaps if more people turn towards catering and related industries France will

have find her way to bring back her rating as a number one place to go to

enjoy restaurants.

I am sure that Paris is still wonderful but we scratch around here in my region to find

talented chefs with dedication.

Have the French given up?

Or does great cuisine not matter any more?
I just can not kick the habit!

Sorry it took me so long to approve comments and BIG Thanks everyone, for your kind feedback & messages of support this is fabulous. I will look forward to showing my son on his next home visit.

French apprentiships are very much a part of education and are definitely much better supported here than in the UK.

Part 2 of the story is interesting and fraught with controversy !

COMING SOON to a blog site near you!

What a fantastic story.

It sounds like the help is there (here), you just need to know how to find it. That can be the frustrating part ( or one of them) here in France.

It looks like that in the end support and help from the state was there ( I would need to be persuaded that the same support would be available in the UK, I don't have experience of this issue in the UK, I just have a perception).

I also think your son now has a great opportunity ahead of him.

learning the restaurant trade in a French city,

being Bilingual

Only 16, with the rest of his life ahead of him.

It may be an interesting excercise, to go through which countries he could eventaully work in speaking either French of English, with a french restaurant training/experience. I suspect it may well be along list

If he is determined only to look for the UK for employment, I suspect his brother may well be able to help with contacts/agencies there.

Great story, thanks for sharing

Jo glad it all turned out well in the end, rest assured the job scene in the uk is no better, as a time served engineer i had a number of apprentices over the years some were good and keen others we both quickly realised they were in the wrong job, college most definitly has its place but some struggle, one lad i knew many years ago couldnt pass an exam to save his life but as a hands on engineer was second to none but for the last 20 odd years no apprentice sceme has been in operation now engineers are in very short supply if every company in every trade took on one apprentice not a YTS or other such scam but a genuine apprenticeship then many problems for the youth of today would be solved

Good luck to your son..everything that happens in life is for a good reason for jobs for school leavers in the UK there is not any ..its a big problem..your son wants to work ..that got to be a double plus ..our lives can turn around on a cent tell him to always take the next step.

Well done for sticking with it. It is not easy if you do not know what you want to do, and "la Crise" has mad it much more difficult for so many of us.

I think your son is very lucky to have such a caring and determined Mum. I hope that the apprenticeship is exactly what he wants it to be.

Well done to you and your son Jo. Best of luck to him in his new career.

What a wonderful story!

An inspirational story, which must surely show anyone else in the same boat what can be overcome with gumption, and perseverence! Congratulations to you all for turning a corner, and if we ever go to Poitiers again we will definitely visit the restaurant...

sorry about the spelling was before I went to work!

I have to add that my son disagrees with my description about him doing the Electrotech because his friends were doing it.

I agree, there must have been other motives, it's just that that's what he said to us when we asked why he'd chosen it and that has stuck in my mind..I should have added that he thought he would become interested in it once he got going.

Thats a great story ...good luck to him!

I really enjoyed reading this, and want to thank you for being so brave as to tell it like it is...many of the ex pats are having a hard time financially and otherwise at the are many French!...and your story not only brings them hope but also the knowledge that they...we...are not alone. Bon courage!

Jo, I wish him well, he deserves it! We are about an hour from Poitiers, don't get in that often, but I will remember the restaurant for when we next visit.

spot the historic 'munument'!