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Youth employment scheme extended

France: THE ambitious youth employment scheme, which has provided jobs for more than 300,000 young people since it started in 1997, will continue beyond its initial five-year term and offer improved prospects when workers complete their contracts.

Employment minister Elisabeth Guigou last week announced the future "consolidation" of the Emplois-jeunes programme, which costs FFR24 billion (pound;2.4bn) a year to run. Hailing the scheme as "a great success that will overshoot its targets", Ms Guigou said it had contributed to the reduction in youth unemployment and to an improvement of quality of life. "It has ensured the future of the young and strengthened public services," she said.

The initiative was introduced by Lionel Jospin's government four years ago, when one in four young people was unemployed. The idea was to give an introduction to working life.

Under the plan, 18 to 26-year olds take posts on non-renewable five-year contracts, after which they must find another job, which might be with the same employer.

To join the scheme they must have at least a vocational qualification or the baccalaureat, and they receive the minimum wage of around 660 a month.

Currently 277,000 young workers are involved in Emplois-jeunes. The ministry of education is the biggest single employer with 70,000 posts, most of them classroom assistants.

The interior ministry employs 20,000 "security assistants" in the police force. Another 180,000 work for regional or local authorities, and with community associations in fields such as family support, sports, culture, health, the environment, housing and transport.

With Ms Guigou last week were five other government members whose ministries represent the major sectors in which the scheme operates, including Jack Lang of education and Daniel Vaillant of the interior.

Mr Lang said educational workers had "transformed school life", displaying great versatility in undertaking tasks such as assisting teachers, remedial help, new technologies, running libraries, implementing anti-violence measures, family mediation and integrating disabled pupils.

Mr Vaillant said the programme gave the young training and good professional prospects.

Ms Guigou's plans now include continuing government finance with an increased budget for next year.

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