Knowing the Labor Market. the Economic Expertise of Youth Employment Counsellors

Friday, 3 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
CLM.3.05 (Clement House)
Lea Lima, CNAM/LISE, Paris, France
In sociological and economic literature, public employment services (PES) are generally defined as labour market intermediaries; in other words agents that intercede between jobseekers and employers to match labour supply with demand. However, if the activities concretely performed by PES are examined more closely, it becomes obvious that matching supply with demand is neither exclusive nor central to their activity. By providing assistance and advice, or even coaching, they mobilize knowledge to the same extent that they provide information on the way the labour market functions. However, questions regarding the development and treatment of economic data on the labour market and employment, and the development of an ‘economic culture’ useful for action, remain unasked in the social sciences.

How is this recruitment expertise built-up and expressed? Our work consists in understanding how employment intermediaries develop the economic expertise required to legitimise their status as employment specialists. We effectively believe that right approach to examining employment intermediaries’ work consists in uncovering their economic beliefs, the manner in which these beliefs are constructed and finally, the processes by which beliefs acquire the status of expertise. We were more interested in the social construction of the labour market as a ‘reality’ for the social players concerned. Employment intermediaries form an integral part of the labour markets and as such consider as real and believable a certain number of assertions concerning the way they function.

The question was broached using a somewhat unusual approach that consisted in examining applications for financial assistance submitted by French young adults aged from 18 to 25 through an ethnographic methodology . The Youth Assistance Fund (FAJ) aims at providing financial aid to young adults with individual projects to integrate the labour market: training, obtaining a driving licence, equipment required for training programmes or access to employment, etc. The decision to grant aid is based among other things on a detailed examination of their ‘career and employment project’ which must be ‘coherent’, realistic and socially legitimate. The survey on which this article is based concerns the decision-making modalities practiced for two departmental youth assistance funds (fonds départementaux d'aide aux jeunes franciliens) in the Paris area (FAJ A and FAJ B), in compliance with General Councils’ mandatory provision of financial assistance to socially disadvantaged youth aged between 18 and 25. We observed and recorded the way FAJ commissions were conducted in both departments between March 2009 and June 2010, which amounted to 30 sessions during the course of which 422 cases were examined. In addition, we conducted 27 interviews with ‘Mission Locale’ counsellors in the two departments, and 3 commission chairpersons.