Unemployed get makeovers in France

The World

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

By Genevieve Oger

France’s unemployment office launched a small test project aimed at rebuilding confidence among the country’s long-term unemployed. It involves job advice, guidance on appearance, and manicures.

Last week, a Paris image consultancy opened its doors to nine women who’ve been out of work several years. 44-year-old Axelle said she has been looking for a job in sales for three years. She said that looking for work can be isolating.

“You feel alone, so there is a tendency to turn inwards, and sometimes let yourself go a little,” Axelle said.

She called the workshop an opportunity to get some professional advice on makeup and personal presentation, and “a little pampering.”

This pilot project brings together an all-volunteer team of make-up artists, hairdressers, manicurists, image consultants and human resource specialists. The one-day workshops are geared for women, but a session for men hasn’t been ruled out.

Nicole Brejou, with the French government employment office, a partner in the project, said it is important to be creative when dealing with the long-term unemployed.

“The longer people are out of the workforce, the more difficult it is for them to get back in,” Brejou said, adding that people “lose their self-confidence.”

According to the World Bank, the rate of long-term unemployment in France stood at 38 percent in 2008, the latest figures available. That means that nearly 40 percent of the unemployed have been out of a job for one year or more.

In France, it can be complicated and expensive to fire an employee. As a result, employers are often reluctant to hire permanent workers or take a chance on an unproven candidate, and they are especially reluctant to hire older workers.

During the manicures, the participants were advised to keep nails short. Polish should be clear or in a light color. Make-up should be subtle, not too loud, and clothing and accessories shouldn’t be distracting: one necklace — not three.

One of the women, Christine, is seeking a job as an event planner. She didn’t want to give her age. She said it is great to receive this kind of attention, but she wondered if it would really help her find work in this difficult economy.

Christine said she viewed this event as an opportunity to meet new people and expand her network. She added that she found all her other positions through word of mouth, and she thinks that is how she will find her next job — not through the state job center.

At the end of the workshop, the participants went home with makeup and personal care products from the sponsors. The organizers emphasized that appearance isn’t frivolous.

They have held similar one-day events for women who used to be homeless, and they said of the 100 participants in that program, half have found jobs.

PRI’s “The World” is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. “The World” is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.

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