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French firms turn to poor areas for help

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Kai Ryssdal:

President-elect Obama was deliberately vague today when he was asked how big a stimulus package he's working on. Suffice it to say it'll be big.
The European Commission's set to announce its strategy the day after tomorrow.
Also big, probably. But long before the immediate financial crisis, parts of Europe were already hurting. Poor immigrant suburbs near Paris especially.
Three years ago high unemployment sparked huge riots there. The jobless rate in some of those suburbs is still twice the national average--near 15 percent.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy wants to spend a billion and a half dollars to change that. Which has dozens of the biggest companies in France, including the public transit operator RATP coming to town to hire.
Anita Elash reports.


Anita Elash:
There's only one place to be this morning in the poor Paris suburb of Sarcelles. Here, at this parked bus turned job recruitment centre. Dozens of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East are filling out applications for that rare opportunity--a permanent full-time job.

This man is a 45-year-old Algerian immigrant who has lived in France for 30 years. He wants to work in maintenance.

He says he's worked part-time or in short-term contracts all his life, but he has a family now and so he can't live that way anymore. He says he needs a job where he can see the future.

The RATP plans to hire 2,500 full-time bus drivers, electricians and maintenance workers every year for the next four years. Most of them will come from places like Sarcelles.

And the RATP isn't the only one with jobs to offer. Fifty of France's largest companies plan to hire up to a hundred thousand workers from the suburbs in the next three years. Companies like supermarket chain Carrefour and the car-maker Renault. Serge Morelli is a human resources executive with the giant insurance company AXA France. He says like many companies AXA is looking to the suburbs because its employees are getting old. One fifth of them will retire in the next three years.

Serge Morelli [Translation] Every company in France is facing the same problem. An aging population that in the next few years will be retiring in large numbers. So that means that there's a huge demand for new employees.

Morelli says demand for young, educated workers in places like Sarcelles is now so high that many job candidates don't show up for interviews. They've already been hired--by someone else.
But there's still concern that all these new hiring programs won't do enough to help workers at the bottom of the job ladder.

Counselors at this local employment office in Sevran--another poor suburb that was hit by riots--see hundreds of unskilled and uneducated job hunters every day. Pierre Mouget is the director.

Mouget says it's easier for many of the young people who come to the employment office to get job interviews now. But he says the number who actually get jobs has barely gone up.

Mouget says many of these would-be workers can't afford a drivers license much less a car to get to work. And they'll need a lot more training before they have the skills required for many of the jobs that are up for grabs. But there's time. The RATP's recruitment bus and many of France's biggest companies will be back next year.

In the suburbs outside Paris, I'm Anita Elash for Marketplace.

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