INSEAD study reveals how to unlock the potential of France's workforce

INSEAD researchers find a new generation of French workers focused on improving their skills, achieving greater social impact and increasing diversity.

20 January 2020

  • The French take pride in their engineering and analytic competencies but see a need for soft skills upgrade.

  • Employees no longer seek life-long employment. Local talents expect employers to create flexible work environments, inclusive organisational cultures and positive social impact.

  • France is well known for its quality of life, and international openness is on the rise.  Workplace diversity needs to increase.


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Companies that choose or plan to invest in France will find they gain a competitive advantage from the country’s workforce, according to a new study by INSEAD. But there are some crucial caveats they will have to take into account.

In a report for Choose France 2020, a summit organised by the French government on the 20th of January, INSEAD found that France is very well-placed to compete in the rapidly digitising global economy due to a powerful base of technical and analytical skills, and a workforce that is increasingly flexible and international in outlook. However, companies will need to provide opportunities for learning, social impact and inclusion to tap into its burgeoning talent pool.

For the study, a four-member team of INSEAD researchers surveyed nearly 1,888 students and graduates of three French higher-education institutions - Ecole Polytechnique (engineering), Institut Paul Bocuse (hospitality management) and INSEAD, The Business School for the World. The survey focused on under-45s. Nationals of 82 countries filled in the questionnaires. The researchers also interviewed 94 managers at 20 companies in France.

According to Peter Zemsky, INSEAD Dean of Innovation and Professor of Strategy and Innovation, as well as study co-author, “the survey revealed that skillsets and mindsets are undergoing rapid change in France. For example, the younger generation acknowledges a soft-skills shortfall, but is eager to plug its gaps and accelerate social impact.”

INSEAD Senior Affiliate Professor of Strategy and co-author, Felipe Monteiro, adds, “furthermore, we find young French-educated talent is surprisingly flexible, willing to move around companies and geographical locations. If they are enabled to do so, they will bring valuable insights home.”

“France’s legendary quality of life greatly appeals to young French talent and the fiscal system is not an insurmountable hurdle to attracting or retaining talent. In fact, companies that embrace the French spirit of international openness and meritocracy can create a virtuous spiral of ever-higher performance,” says Jennifer Petriglieri, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD and study co-author.

The study’s authors conclude that France can be a magnet for both home-grown and international talent. But there are some crucial recommendations:

  • International companies: prove you are socially and environmentally responsible.
  • Companies of French origin: be agile, flexible and fair. Reward higher performance and remove hierarchies.
  • The government: focus reforms on soft skills and agility.
  • Higher education: ensure that students gain vocational and international experience through internships, global exchanges and learning that mirrors real-life.
  • Individuals: continue updating soft as well technical skills and broadening your global outlook.

About INSEAD, The Business School for the World

As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society. Our research, teaching and partnerships reflect this global perspective and cultural diversity.

With locations in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore), the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), and now North America (San Francisco), INSEAD's business education and research spans four regions. Our 165 renowned Faculty members from 41 countries inspire more than 1,300 degree participants annually in our MBA, Global Executive MBA, Specialised Master’s degrees (Executive Master in Finance and Executive Master in Change) and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD Executive Education programmes each year.

INSEAD continues to conduct cutting-edge research and innovate across all our programmes. We provide business leaders with the knowledge and awareness to operate anywhere. Our core values drive academic excellence and serve the global community as The Business School for the World.

Contacts for press:

Chris Howells
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Ilan Goren
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Cheryl Ng
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Linda Furtado
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