Young people are our future. Let’s help them make it a bright one

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Young people are under pressure as never before. Even before the pandemic, young people were more than twice as likely to be unemployed than people aged 25-64. Their disposable income is lower, their housing is less affordable, and they are more exposed to insecure jobs than the previous generation. OECD data show that, on average, 1 in 10 young people aged 15-24 across OECD member countries were not in employment, education or training (NEET) in 2019 and 2020, representing an economic cost of between 0.9% and 1.5% of GDP in the OECD.

We all have a responsibility to ensure that, as a generation, their future is not lost. By working together – as civil society, governments and businesses – we can help them face the challenges of work, gender equality, the green transition, and the future of business; and empower young people to create and seize new opportunities.

Our experience in France can help provide lessons on how to do so. In March 2021, I launched a call to action to support young people (#YouthFuture), which was joined by 162 leaders from business, culture and sport. Together, we proposed to organise a Forum on Youth across France and Europe. The purpose was to give renewed focus to young people aged 18-30, and to draw up a draft “Marshall Plan” by and for young people: for the students, the high school apprentices, the young professionals, the interns, and the job-seekers in all regions, covering all aspects of life. We also conducted a survey that showed that 2 out of 3 of young people were no longer planning for the future, which is a terrible state of affairs for their personal development, for social cohesion and for the economy. Moreover, it revealed that times of crises have a much more significant adverse impact on the social, educational, health, professional, and financial lives of young females compared to young males.

These proposals for action by civil society are in line with my work in government when, as Minister of Labour, I led the reform of apprenticeships. Our 2018 law “On the freedom to choose one’s professional future” transformed the system by removing educational, legal and financial obstacles, and by reinforcing the appeal of this pathway for young people aged 16-30, and as a means of building skills with and for companies.

These reforms – supported by recruitment subsidies provided by the French Government’s “1 jeune, 1 solution” plan during the crisis – helped boost the number of apprenticeships by more than 50% over 2019 and 2020 combined. Micro, small and medium enterprises represent more than 3/4 of all contracts signed. In 2020, for the first time ever, France surpassed 500,000 new apprenticeship contracts, meaning that there were almost 800,000 apprentices in training. A historic year despite the crisis.

More bold commitments followed. Recently, over 100 CEOs decided to join forces with the French Government to promote the mentoring of young people. Through the initiative, they will provide them with advice on their studies, the inner workings of companies and how to find their first jobs.

The OECD will continue to play a central role in building a better future for our young people alongside governments and business. The “StandByYouth” initiative encourages firms to take action to promote opportunities for young people, and comes at a critical moment as we look to shape the recovery – and their future. It is part of a broader OECD programme to support youth, which includes the development of a new Youth Action Plan and the launch of new initiatives for young people in the areas of employment and training.

Importantly, StandByYouth looks beyond short-term measures, instead aiming to lay the foundations for a new type of relationship between young people and firms. It is rightly ambitious, born not just out of the present crisis, but of an increasing need to rethink the future of work, to re-engage the young and to restore hope. Today, together, we all need to #StandbyYouth for a brighter future.

This blog is also available in French.

Représentante Permanente de la France auprès de l’OCDE | + posts

De mai 2017 à juillet 2020, Muriel Pénicaud a été Ministre du Travail en France. Elle a dirigé plusieurs réformes structurelles qui ont largement contribué à faire décroitre le chômage en France : la réforme du code du travail «Ordonnances Travail » (2017), la loi « Pour la liberté de choisir son avenir professionnel » pour l’apprentissage, la formation professionnelle et l’égalité professionnelle femmes-hommes (2018), l’insertion par l’activité économique pour les personnes vulnérables, et le système de chômage partiel pendant la crise de la COVID-19. Elle a été fortement impliquée dans la négociation de directives européennes, notamment celle sur les travailleurs détachés. En 2019, elle a présidé le « G7 social » des Ministres du travail, qui a abouti à une déclaration tripartite entre les pays du G7 et les organisations patronales et syndicales, visant à renforcer la protection sociale pour tous dans le monde.


De 2014 à 2017, Muriel Pénicaud a été Ambassadrice déléguée aux investissements internationaux et a dirigé l’agence Business France pour le développement international de l'économie française, chargée de la promotion de l’attractivité de la France, de la prospection des investissements internationaux, et de l'accompagnement des PME et ETI françaises à l'export. Elle a conduit la fusion des agences AFII et UbiFrance qui a donné naissance à Business France. 


De 2008 à 2014, Muriel Pénicaud a été Directrice Générale des Ressources Humaines du Groupe Danone dont elle était membre du Comité exécutif, et Présidente du conseil d’administration du Fonds Danone Ecosystème. Elle a occupé divers postes de direction chez Danone entre 1993 et 2002. Elle a créé et produit le programme « EVE » pour le développement du Leadership des Femmes, et créé le programme « Dan’Cares » instaurant une protection sociale pour tous les salariés dans le monde.


De 2002 à 2008, elle a été Directrice générale adjointe, en charge de l’organisation, des ressources humaines et du développement durable et membre du comité exécutif de Dassault Systèmes, leader mondial dans la technologie 3 D.


Muriel Pénicaud a commencé sa carrière comme administratrice territoriale (1976-1980) puis comme directrice de deux associations à but non lucratif (1981-1985).


De 1985 à 1993 elle a occupé divers postes de direction au Ministère du Travail, et a été Conseillère auprès du Ministre de 1991 à 1993. De 1993 à 2002, elle a tenu plusieurs fonctions de direction internationales dans les ressources humaines du groupe Danone.