France to spend 1 billion euros to boost apprenticeships

French Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud speaks to the press following their meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and French Unions at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 4, 2020. Yoan Valat/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - France will spend an extra billion euros on a programme to boost apprenticeships in French companies as part of new measures to soften the impact of the coronavirus crisis on employment.

The extra state support for the apprentice scheme -- one of the government’s unsung successes before the crisis hit -- was announced after President Emmanuel Macron met with trade unions and employers at the Elysee palace.

“We had historic growth in apprenticeships. We can’t sacrifice the young generation,” Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said after the talks.

State support for hiring apprentices under 18 years of age will be raised to 5,000 euros from 4,125 euros and for apprentices 18 years or over to 8,000 euros from 5,125 euros.

France is keen to avoid a wave of layoffs and is also betting on a German-inspired scheme to financially encourage firms to keep workers on their books, reducing their hours instead of cutting jobs.

“What’s at stake is to save jobs and skills,” Penicaud said, adding that the terms of the new scheme will be unveiled within two weeks.

Keeping workers in their jobs, even with reduced hours, would help preserve skills and allow for a quicker rebound once demand for French products picks up again, presidential advisers say.

Macron moved quickly to transform the job market in the first years of his presidency, making it easier to hire and fire workers in a bid to cut an unemployment rate that had historically remained high even in good times.

His aim, before the coronavirus crisis, was to bring it down to 7% by the end of his mandate in 2022. Containing the rise in unemployment will however be a key factor in Macron’s possible re-election bid.

Additional reporting by Caroline Pailliez and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Chris Reese, Kirsten Donovan