Comparison of public employment services in Europe

Brigitte Bourguignon, Louis-Charles Viossat, Julien Méjane, members of IGAS, Thomas Cargill, Louis Boillot, Théo Etienne, Philippe Vinçon, members of IGF

In the context of the prefiguration of France Travail, the mission studied the German, Catalan, Danish, Flemish and Swedish public employment services (PES). The objective of this study was to identify good practices that could inspire the French PES [1]. The mission examined five themes reflecting the main areas for improvement in the French system : the coordination of PES actors, the initial diagnosis of the situation of job seekers, the terms of their support, the monitoring of job search, and the provision of services to businesses.
The countries and regions studied by the mission have very different PES models in terms of organization, scope, competencies of public actors, level of outsourcing, strategy towards jobseekers, and resources used. While these differences can be explained by the historical, political and socio-economic context, many lessons can be learned for the French model.
The organization of the PES studied is less fragmented than the French organization. Four of the five PES studied have one-stop jobseeker support offices (Catalonia, Denmark, Flanders, Sweden), and the German PES has two support offices with very well-defined boundaries. These countries have generally entrusted PES policy to one or two institutional levels. For example, the German PES has a central operator, the Bundesagentur für Arbeit, and an intermunicipal level.
For the target groups studied, France is unique in having three job seeker support offices (Pôle Emploi, departmental integration services, local missions) with no defined accountability framework and three institutional levels involved in designing and implementing the PES [2] . Because of the overlapping competencies of some of the offices, limited data exchange and the absence of effective governance bodies between these actors, this fragmented organization poses problems in terms of coordination of actors, understanding by users and optimization of the resources used. Finally, France is the only country to have a specific window for young people.
The PES studied have a more directive approach to supporting job seekers overall. Four of the five PES studied (Germany, Denmark, Flanders and Sweden) have a strategy geared towards a rapid return to work. This is achieved through various methods of diagnosis, support, recourse to vocational training, control and sanctions, which aim to rapidly define realistic objectives for returning to work, to encourage the jobseeker to contact employers regularly and to return to work, even if it does not correspond to his or her initial objectives.
Catalonia and France favor support for the job seeker’s project, whether or not this project leads quickly to a job (training, removal of barriers to employment, etc.). This strategy was justified in a context of high unemployment, but seems less relevant today in view of the tensions in certain professions.
Comparing the human and financial resources of the PES is fraught with difficulties due to differences in scope and levels of outsourcing. However, the resources for supporting job seekers are greater in the countries studied than in France (with the exception of Catalonia), particularly given the lower unemployment rates and higher per capita wealth. The countries studied have also chosen to invest in support for job seekers and have maintained their efforts while unemployment has fallen.
The countries studied have similar difficulties in ensuring the integration of all those furthest from employment, especially those with health, addiction and housing problems. The countries with the highest employment rates are those that have managed to better qualify the distance to employment of those receiving minimum social benefits, to better articulate PES policies and the social policies necessary to support those most in difficulty, often managed at the local level, and that use assisted contracts in the market and non-market sectors to integrate those furthest from employment, whereas France has made less use of them since 2018. Finally, France stands out for the importance it places on removing peripheral barriers to employment.
These observations, which should be seen in their respective institutional contexts, lead the mission to make a series of recommendations that can be implemented in the short term within the framework of the establishment of France Travail, subject to additional expert work. These recommendations are based on the following elements :

  • With regard to the general organization of the PES, the mission recommends above all strengthening the accountability of PES actors, particularly the départements and local missions, i.e., transparency by implementing uniform and transparent statistical reporting of their activities and accountability by defining a contractual framework in which each actor commits to quantified and verifiable objectives. The mission proposes to reduce the number of offices by experimenting with joint structures between the Pôle Emploi, the départements and the local missions for young people and RSA recipients. Finally, the links between the PES and the youth guidance structures must be strengthened, so that young people have a clearer idea of employment needs before making academic and professional choices ;
  • With regard to the initial diagnosis, the mission recommends improving the measurement of the distance to employment, in particular for RSA and ASS recipients, and adapting their pathways accordingly. Reducing the time between registration and diagnosis must also be a priority objective for all groups. Registration with the PES should be made mandatory upon notification of dismissal or a few weeks before the end of a fixed-term contract of a certain duration, in order to put in place strategies to avoid unemployment ;
  • With regard to support for job seekers, the mission recommends setting realistic employment objectives that evolve over time and adopting a more directive approach by linking financed training to a specific employment target and making greater use of short internships in companies. It is also advisable to simplify the various methods of supporting job seekers by increasing the scope for adaptation at the local level ;
  • With regard to job seekers’ compliance with their obligations, the mission recommends adopting a more progressive scale of sanctions and applying them more systematically, in particular for failure to attend an appointment or meeting without a valid reason. It also recommends the introduction of a job search diary based on the Swedish model, backed up by sanctions in the event of non-compliance with commitments made by job seekers ;
  • With regard to business services, a major issue in all the countries studied, the mission did not identify any distinctive solution, with the exception of the practice, at the local level, of specialized joint "business and job seeker" teams, particularly in sectors under pressure, which it recommends to experiment with.

In the future, beyond the France Travail project, if a reform modifying the distribution of competences of the different actors of the PES were to be considered, it would have to articulate the strengths of a national operator, which guarantees an overall vision and efficient management, and those of its local partners, who have a detailed knowledge of the territory and the capacity to make the link with the social policies that need to be activated for a part of the public.
The revision of the distribution of competences for the support of all job seekers, whether or not they are RSA beneficiaries, should aim to keep only the national level and a single local level. This local level should correspond to an existing administrative and institutional entity and should ensure the coordination of the many local actors involved in the pathways of job seekers and make the link with social policies.
It would be desirable, moreover, for each job seeker, whether or not he or she is receiving RSA, to have a single contact point, which could be managed by a single network or by two separate networks (as in Germany), if necessary under the aegis of France Travail.
Such a reform, outlined in the conclusion of the report, should be part of a more general reflection on territorial organization and aim to better involve local elected officials and social partners in the governance of the PES, both at national and local levels.
The table below brings together the main elements for comparing the different PES. They are discussed in detail in the report.

Table 1 Summary of PES comparisons (latest figures available)

Source :(1) National data (details in the appendices) ;(2) Unédic(3) National data (details in the appendices) : the minimum social benefits presented in the table are for a single individual and may be increased in some countries by additional aid ;(4) Mission, based on national data and findings during visits, details in the appendices ;(5) Mission, based on field findings For France, these are job seekers (DE) in the portfolio. (6) The intensity indices reflect a relative scale from 1 to 5 (high intensity). These indices are not based on calculations but reflect the mission’s conviction at the end of its work.


Improve governance and coordination of PES actors
Proposal No. 1 Organize by law a coherent system of accountability for the various actors in the PES (Pôle Emploi, departments, local missions, etc.) within the framework of France Travail, which includes activity and steering data to be transmitted to a central body, annual commitments in figures made within a contractual framework, and corrective measures in the event of results falling short of the commitments made.
Proposal No. 2 Set up a statistical reporting system for activity and management data for all PES actors to ensure the transparency of their performance.
Proposal No. 3 Bringing together the various PES offices. Based on the German model, joint structures between the Pôle Emploi, the départements and the local missions could be tested in pilot areas, for the care of young people and RSA beneficiaries.
Proposal No. 4 Bringing together the services in charge of guidance for high school and university students and France Working closely with the regions
Better identify, diagnose and orient job seekers
Proposal #5 Adopt the concept of unemployment avoidance by supporting people in employment as soon as they are notified of their dismissal or, for people on fixed-term contracts of a certain duration, a few weeks before the end of their contract
Proposal #6 Restructuring the management of job seekers (diagnosis, professional project, action plan) around a few distinct phases and setting realistic and progressive objectives for the job to be taken up
Proposal #7 Better characterize the distance to employment, particularly for RSA and ASS recipients, and adapt their pathways accordingly
Optimize the support of job seekers
Proposal #8 Adopt a more directive approach to job seeker support based on the "shortest path to employment"
Proposal No. 9 Continuing to develop operational preparation for employment (POE), by linking the services and training financed to a specific employment target
Proposal #10 Make greater use of short internships and work experience placements
Proposal #11 Simplify the various support methods for job seekers so that they are more understandable for the public, by increasing the scope for adaptation at the local level
Proposal #12 Transforming the "follow-up" mode into "autonomous research" for those who are closest to employment
Proposal #13 Systematically evaluate, six months after their completion, the services and training offered to job seekers by the various PES actors
Ensure more effective monitoring of job search and expand the penalty system
Proposal #14 Adopt a more progressive scale of sanctions and apply it more systematically, particularly for absence from an appointment or meeting without valid reason
Proposal No. 15 Entrust the initiative for sanctions for insufficient job search to the benefits counselor, which will allow the support counselor to establish a relationship of trust with the job seeker
Proposal No. 16 Introduce a mandatory job search log sent every month to Pôle Emploi, which would be monitored by a national control service
Strengthen business services
Proposal #17 Strengthen the specialization of business counselors. Mixed sectoral teams (business advisors and employment advisors) closely linked to training centers could be tested in areas with high tension sectors. The methods of implementation should be left to the local level, depending on the number of FTEs per agency and the relationships established with companies in the area


[1On benchmarking methodology and best practices in the public sector, see European Network of Public Employment Services, PES Network Benchlearning Manual, December 2021 and OECD, International Benchmarking, Public Management Service (PUMA), February 1997 and Khurrum Bhutta and Faizul Huq, Benchmarking and best practices : an integrated approach, Benchmarking, An international journal, September 1999.

[2State, departments and municipalities (which generally chair the local missions). The region is also responsible for financing vocational training for job seekers and for guidance.

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