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Fresh from Location Marketing

Transferable skills: lost in translation?

As a languages student in the UK and just having spent 2 months on a work placement with Location Marketing, here's what Rachel had to say ...

As a current university student in the UK, I have been told time and time again that the ‘transferable skills’ I will gain from my degree are what makes me employable. A quick glance on my course website will tell you that my 4-year Modern Languages degree will teach me to ‘analyse and evaluate critically’, ‘use imagination and creativity’ and ‘cope with direct challenge’. By June 2017, I will have spent three years reading books and watching arty films and one year living in the South of France. In other words, living the dream. So why is it that although graduates from my course go on to work in a range of fields, including journalism, banking and law, every time I tell someone in France about my degree, they immediately presume my career path lies in teaching or interpreting? The notion of transferable skills, it seems, are lost in translation. 

Compared to UK students, many of whom pursue graduate jobs with a standard 3-year BA or BSc, French students seem either obliged or willing to take longer route of higher education: either two years of classes préparatoires followed by three years in a specialised Grand École or a three year licence at one of the public universities, followed by a two-year Master’s programme. This relatively rigid parcours professionnel is often focused on a specific vocational pathway, whether that is international business, management or communication. Their studies are supplemented by a substantial amount of compulsory stage, or work placements, which often last either 3 or 6 months. Of course, it is worth bearing in mind that for the most part, tuition fees in France are negligible compared to the £9000/year course fees charged by the majority of UK universities. Although a loan of up to £10000 will be available for those wishing to pursue a Master’s programme beginning in August 2019, students already burdened with an excess of £40000 of student debt are forced to seriously consider the financial implications of postgraduate study. 

When it comes to graduate employment in France and the UK, there is some interesting analysis to be made. In a 2015 study by Apec, a French employment agency, 62% of graduates with 5 years of post-Baccalaureate study were employed a year following graduation. When delving deeper, we see that there is a rate of 70% employment amongst those who have completed degrees in communication and business, compared to a rate of 56% amongst those who have studied literature, languages and arts. According to the UK Office of National Statistics, in 2013 the UK graduate employment rate was 87%, with an employment rate of 90% for business graduates, as well as those who had studied linguistics, English or classics. Post-graduate employment amongst languages graduates came just under, at 87%. What, if anything, can this disparity between post-graduate employment rates amongst French arts and languages and their compatriots across the pond? Perhaps this statistic hints at the bias in France towards employing those with more vocational qualifications, as opposed to those who have spent their time studying literature. Perhaps, given the importance of stage in the French higher education system, arts and languages graduates find themselves competing with those who already have experience in more vocational fields. I don’t know. 

When it comes to the question of transferring between the two job markets, how would a French-speaking graduate from a UK university fare when finding a graduate job in France? As an anecdotal example, I was rejected from an evening job teaching English because I didn’t have Bac+5, despite being a native English speaker with teaching experience. In practice, I had the skills required to do the job but on paper, my qualifications were not sufficient. Whilst I agree that the French higher education, with its emphasis on specific preparation for the workplace, does have certain advantages, I am a firm believer that key skills are gained from non-vocational study. An in-depth knowledge of nineteenth-century French poetry may not necessary for a career in business, for example, but an ability to understand, analyse and explain concepts and ideas which are just as complex will be.  

Statistics taken from the following reports:

https://presse.apec.fr/files/live/mounts/media/fichiers/DP%20JD%202015.pdf

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_337841.pdf