Long live flexibility

Article published on Sept. 5, 2005
Article published on Sept. 5, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Job insecurity is attacked from all sides but can we be so sure that all young people want a long-term contract as soon as they leave university?

Flexible, part-time and short-term contracts are often subject to unfair and often superficial criticism. This type of employment is seen as being synonymous with exploitation by an economic system that is becoming increasingly capitalistic. Employment agencies are criminalised a priori, accused of looking solely after the interests of businesses, and never those of the employees. But is it all true?

The half-empty glass: instability

Without confirming or denying these accusations, it is important to provide a different key to understanding, which is more modern and optimistic with regards to the developments in the European work market. In fact, to define the situation of young workers only as ‘precarious’ means only seeing the glass as half-empty.

A flexible work market demands flexible workers, both mentally (willing to accept new challenges) and physically (aware of increasing mobility in the workplace). In order to ‘ride’ globalisation, rather than letting ourselves be swept away by it, it helps to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the modern economy.

Globalisation, in fact, is not merely an encumbrance. It provides a more open market in which businesses are rendered more international because of the boom in direct foreign investments. It offers more opportunities to an employee who is willing to accept the challenges of the future. The openness of the market and the fall of economic barriers are a sign of freedom; the bureaucratic deregulation has allowed us to move how and where we want within the confines of Europe.

This means that once we have learnt languages, a fundamental prerequisite for any young person who wants to build a career elsewhere in Europe, we all have the same chances as a Spaniard in Madrid and a Dutchman in Amsterdam: maybe more, given that today being ‘foreign’ has become an added resource. So what are you still doing there? Leave your fears at home and enjoy the opportunities that our fathers did not even dream they could have.

The half-full glass: flexibility

A fixed-length contract is one of the most common in the new world economy. It is pointless to look at the past nostalgically: it is much better, however, to be ready and not be caught unaware. If it is true that a short-term contract makes us more insecure, this is only one side of the coin. The other means that flexibility gives us the possibility to gain a number of different experiences, to have a varied CV and - why not? - to satisfy our urge to travel.

Short-term contracts do not bind us to one place, we are not crystallised in one reality. It allows us an escape-route, a new start. For recent graduates, this less constraining and, it must be said, often less lucrative type of occupation can serve an important purpose: helping the individual to determine in which field he intends to work, something that is more a necessity than a whim, given the increasing specialisation in study areas.

By choosing courses that cover more disciplines, students are increasingly finding themselves in difficulty when deciding which road to take. In this situation, experience gained thanks to a short-term contract could be the right way to realise to which sector one is most suited.

A freer market = more freedom

It may seem a triviality but a flexible occupation has another advantage: more free time, which improves quality of life and can be taken advantage of by having another job, perhaps one which pays less but is more enjoyable. Many professions involve a significant hierarchy, which often means working for nothing and preparing yourself for months, or even years, for the career that you really want to have. In that case, what could be better than a job for six months that allows you to earn a bit of cash whilst you gain experience in another field that is considered more interesting and more suited to your characteristics?

In spite of this, critics still seem perplexed by this opportunity; they continue to dream of a guaranteed profession, which no longer exists; they continue to be nostalgic for an era that has passed. Are they right, or are we the ones being naïve? Maybe the truth, as always, is somewhere in between, but a boost of optimism never goes astray.